The politics of need: maintaining equal opportunity

Since the financial crisis began nearly a year and a half ago, the College has been trimming its budget with a multitude of cost-cutting strategies, many of which have directly affected every student on campus. The recent choice to discontinue the no-loans financial aid policy and consideration of limiting need-blind admission for international students will only directly affect a portion of the campus, but these financial decisions have far greater implications than any previous cost-cutting actions.

The termination of the no-loans financial aid policy is reasonable, although it could detrimentally affect the demographics of our applicant pool. It is not unfair to ask students take out relatively small loans to help finance their education, but the revocation of a policy that comparable institutions plan to maintain sheds a negative light on the College. We would like to believe that this decision is one that administrators would not have made unless they deemed it absolutely necessary, as it casts a shadow on the College’s advocacy of equal opportunity education regardless of socioeconomic background.

The possibility of need awareness for international students, however, is even more difficult to reconcile with the Williams ethos than the termination of the no-loans policy. Not only would this greatly alter the profile of students who apply to the College, but it would also further muddy the College’s principles. The elimination of need-blind admission would effectively discriminate against a large population of students from around the world – a group much valued by this campus for the academic, social and cultural enrichment it brings.

If the College does institute need-awareness, the impact of this policy will exacerbate the repercussions of last year’s closeted decision to admit fewer international students. We have always appreciated the College’s characteristic openness about its choices during these trying times, and keeping such a controversial decision under wraps feels like a breach of trust. The international student population should not be further limited to favor students who can pay a higher tuition percentage, and we implore the College to consider other avenues of fiscal saving.

We believe that reintroducing loans was an understandable step, although the College should make every effort to reinstitute the no-loans policy as soon as possible. However, changing the need-blind policy is not acceptable, and seems disingenuous based on what Williams – as both a community of individuals and a conscientious institution – stands for. At Williams, we value academics, but we also place import on diversity and equality of opportunity. We understand the gravity of the financial crisis, but certain values should not be sacrificed.

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