Editorial: No loans: good first step

Following Amherst’s example is rarely a good idea. This page would never condone stealing half of a respectable school’s library or making a mascot of someone who passed out smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans. However, last week’s loan-eliminating copycat move was a good one on the part of the College. We only hope the administration considers it a step down the road to an ideal financial aid policy, rather than a final destination.

Following the lead of Princeton, Davidson and Amherst, beginning in the 2008-9 school year the College will no longer offer financial aid packages that include loans, replacing those amounts with grants. Estimates suggest that this switch will cost the College approximately $1.8 million per year, a number likely to creep upwards if the cost of tuition continues to increase. Though not an astronomical sum when compared to the College’s near-$1.9 billion endowment, this chunk of change is by no means insignificant.

So why is it important to spend hard-earned endowment dollars on loan-elimination? President Schapiro hit the nail on the head in Thursday’s all-campus e-mail, noting that the move “is based on our growing sense that loans, even small ones, affect a range of student decisions, from which colleges they consider attending to which post-college careers they pursue.”

The sentiment behind these words may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less significant. This year, the College is charging $45,140 in tuition, room, board and fees. Put in relatable terms to an 18-year-old, that’s enough dollars to purchase 302 iPod nanos, and still have $142 left to spend on iced coffee at Tunnel City. If we want to attract talented students who may not even have the resources to afford a single nano, we must make every effort to soften the sticker shock students expect when they see that number in the College’s literature. Similarly, if we want all Ephs to feel like they can choose the post-graduate career that will best suit their talents and serve society, we can’t leave them with debts that only jobs at J.P.Morgan or Goldman Sachs could eliminate in a timely manner.

Of course, this move doesn’t lower tuition or promise to increase aid packages. While students will celebrate the loans in their existing packages becoming grants, that doesn’t mean the total the College has promised to cover in some capacity has reached a comfortable level. Helpful as this may be, there will still be Ephs in the pasture knowing they need to make a lot of green very quickly when they graduate, whether those high-paying fields appeal or not.

Going no-loans has put Williams among the accessibility leaders for elite private schools. Now, we need to look closely at what else we can do to make the most talented students see Williamstown as their best destination, no matter what their parents’ income level.

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