Despite global financial flux and a 5 percent drop in the endowment, the College is committed to providing supplementary financial aid to students who are in need of it.
“If your need increases as a result of the economic downturn, the College is committed to continue meeting it, as we always have been,” said Paul Boyer, director of Financial Aid. “If a parent contribution decreases, a corresponding increase in the Williams scholarship will offset that.”
Boyer noted that since the beginning of October, his office has received somewhere between five and 10 phone calls from families that recently experienced job losses or dramatic decreases in asset value. “The question they ask is how their eligibility for aid will be affected,” he said. “Our response is that we typically review cases at midyear. If there has been a significant change to income or net worth, with an update of your current situation, we can review your application.”
As part of the normal award process, every year after Jan. 1 Financial Aid sends updated worksheets to families that have undergone dramatic financial changes. According to Boyer, over 50 families have been on the midyear review list since last summer due to anticipated shifts in finances. This process, which generally results in revisions of the annual Williams scholarship, is also open to students who were not previously receiving aid. “We expect to see a few new students applying for aid whose families have seen a significant decline in income,” he said.
Boyer noted that a portion of students take out loans to replace or reduce parent contributions, even with the College’s loan-exempt policy. “All U.S. students are still eligible to borrow from the federal student loan programs [i.e. the Federal Direct Stafford Loan and the Federal Perkins Loan],” he said. “That might continue to be a resource to call upon beyond the full demonstrated need met by the College.” International students may seek loans directly from the College should the need arise.
It remains to be seen how the economic turmoil will affect the financial aid budget. “It’s a situation of wait-and-see,” Boyer said. “We don’t know how many families we’ll be reviewing, given that we’ve only had maybe half a dozen calls so far.” He emphasized that it was difficult to predict whether businesses will be downsizing before the end of the calendar year, and thus prior to the midyear review. “The period of unemployment may not impact so dramatically this year’s aid eligibility, but there may be more impact on next year’s especially if unemployment continues into 2009,” he said.
Unlike some other institutions, the College has no plans to designate a special pool of money for exceptional need “because we’re fully need-blind, meet full demonstrated need and are, as always, committed to upholding these policies,” Boyer said.
This commitment is no trivial matter at a school with a sticker price of $47,530 which covers tuition, fees and room and board for the current academic year and an actual cost of over $80,000 per student annually. The Board of Trustees sets the costs for each coming year at their April meeting.
Nevertheless, Boyer is optimistic and cites a few favorable factors. “Although our endowment has experienced a decline, it remains strong and it’s still a comfort to know it’s there and that we can call upon its resources.”
Student demographics also play into this sentiment. “Truth be told, in times of economic crisis like this our population at Williams has generally been more immune to worst-case scenarios than the general population,” he said.
Nevertheless, Boyer called the current financial situation a “great unknown” as its severity eclipses anything seen in the last few decades. “Fortunately with our resources we should be able to weather the storm,” Boyer said. “It’s our hope that no student may have to leave the College for financial reasons.”