Provost clarifies frequently asked questions on College financial aid

Communications Director Nathaniel Boley spoke with Provost of the College Will Dudley about common questions surrounding financial aid.

Why does attending the College cost so much?

A Williams education is expensive primarily because we believe that the key is providing students with a large number of talented teachers and mentors. Our 7:1 student-faculty ratio is unsurpassed. We spend about $100,000 per student every year.  But no student pays even close to that.  How much it costs to attend [the College] depends upon each family’s ability to pay. Roughly half of our students come from families that have the resources to pay the full comprehensive fee, which is $63,000. All other students receive financial aid according to their needs – the median aided family pays $9,200. Today, the average real net price for aided students is the same as it was in 1985. 

For an overview of how we spend the money, and of how the endowment and current gifts contribute to our annual budget, please take a look at my website. It has a few charts and a short video that help to explain the financial fundamentals of the College.

Would the College consider a tuition freeze to make the College more affordable?

A tuition freeze would affect only those who pay full tuition. For the other half of our student body, when tuition rises, financial aid grows to cover the entire increase. A tuition freeze would, however, reduce the resources available to provide the best possible education.  We do try to limit the impact of tuition increases on full-pay families, which is why the rate of growth has declined eight years in a row.

What metrics does the College employ to determine individual students’ financial aid?

Each family’s ability to pay is based primarily upon its income, assets and number of children in college. The Office of Financial Aid treats each case individually, taking into account special circumstances. All cases are reviewed annually to make sure that when a family’s financial situation changes, its expected contribution is adjusted accordingly.

We have a great new [financial aid calculator] that generates quick and accurate estimates of what any family can expect to pay, based on the answers to six simple questions that take only a minute or two to answer.

How is financial need determined for international students?

The same way it’s determined for domestic students. We meet 100 percent of the demonstrated financial need of every student, domestic and international. Our international student population has greater need than our domestic student population: a higher percentage of international students (57 percent) than domestic students (48 percent) receive aid, and the average grant to an aided international student ($56,200) is larger than the average grant to an aided domestic student ($45,600).

How much do students borrow to defray the cost of attending the College?

About 40 percent of students borrow and their average debt at graduation is just under $15,000. We don’t ask or expect families with incomes below $75,000 and typical assets to borrow at all. Real per capita debt at the College is 45 percent lower than it was in the late ’90s and remains at the same level achieved prior to the financial crisis. The typical student at the College borrows less than a quarter of the national average and less than students at some “no loan” schools (since “no loan” is a recommendation and many students at such schools do borrow).

What is the financial aid budget and how has it changed over time?

We don’t have a financial aid budget, in the sense of a fixed target or cap on spending. The Office of Admission brings us 550 new students every year, the Office of Financial Aid determines their ability to pay and the College meets the rest of their need, whatever it turns out to be, from the endowment and current gifts.

Financial aid awards currently amount to about $50 million of the College’s annual budget of about $200 million.  Ten years ago financial aid awards totaled $23 million per year. Today financial aid represents 23.5 percent of the College’s annual budget and 10 years ago it was 15.5 percent.

As the value of the endowment has increased, are we using more of it to support financial aid?

Yes. Spending from the endowment now covers 48 percent of the College’s annual budget, up from 41 percent 10 years ago. Family contributions cover 36 percent of the annual budget today, down from 39 percent over the same period. There is a clear trend toward shifting more of the cost of a Williams education to the endowment and lowering the share covered by families. The goal is to spend as much of the endowment as possible on quality, access and affordability for current students, while aiming to ensure those things for future generations.

How does financial aid fit into the capital campaign?

Financial aid is the campaign’s single largest priority. We are hoping to raise $150 million in new endowed funds, which would support an additional $7.5 million in annual financial aid spending. That will ensure that as costs increase we can continue to bring the most talented students to the College, and to meet 100 percent of their demonstrated need, regardless of their financial circumstances. Those are fundamental commitments and we plan to maintain them forever. A successful campaign is critical to securing that future.

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