On Thursday, students gathered in Griffin 3 to discuss issues of diversity and equity with a focus on financial aid. Provost Will Dudley ’89 began the event with a formal presentation and helped moderate the subsequent conversation with Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Leticia Smith-Evans. President of the College Adam Falk, Dean of the College Sarah Bolton and Director of Financial Aid Paul Boyer ’77 all attended the event.
Outgoing College Council (CC) President Marcus Christian ’16 and CC representative Tyrone Scafe ’17 organized the discussion.
Dudley welcomed students with a presentation regarding the current state of financial aid at the College. As provost, Dudley is responsible for resources allocation, strategic planning and oversight of a number of departments. He also serves as an ex-officio member on the Committees on Admission and Financial Aid.
Dudley cited “access and affordability” as the two core principles of financial aid. The College is one of 44 schools in the United States currently practicing a need-blind admission policy for domestic students. This means the College does not factor financial circumstances into admission decisions.
At the College, 53 percent of students receive financial aid, with an average package of $47,600 per year. This sum includes grants, students jobs and modest loans. The College gives 85 percent of financial aid in the form of grants.
“We are fortunate to be able to commit to the principles of access and affordability,” Dudley said during his presentation. “There are a lot of great schools that aren’t in the same group because they do not have the level of resources that we do.”
After highlighting more statistics, Dudley opened the floor to questions. Students raised issues ranging from financial aid for international students to the inaccuracy of the Quick Cost Estimator on the financial aid website.
Additionally, students questioned the allocation of funds for financial aid from the ongoing Teach It Forward capital campaign. “Raising money from alumni is about exciting them,” Falk said in response to the question. “Some will be excited about financial aid, and it’s always the first thing I bring up, but there will be others who are interested in donating to science programs or the Center for Learning in Action.”
Students also expressed frustration about the lack of transparency on the part of the financial aid office. “Williams is committed to being a really great place, but it isn’t complacent or self-satisfied,” Dudley said. “Every year we ask ourselves if there are ways we are not meeting the full needs of our students. Are there ways we need to expand our conception of need?”
Despite this apparent desire to increase transparency, Dudley did not provide concrete steps for further action from students at the event. “The work of the Committee on Financial Aid has led to the expansion of our concept of need,” Dudley said. “This year we are going to provide our lowest income students with additional resources for the tradition away from Williams… But that committee deals with confidential information about admission and financial aid not appropriate for students.”
Elizabeth Hibbard ’19, who attended the discussion, said, “I thought the discussion went well, although there is clearly still a long way to go before every student feels like their financial need is being adequately met.”
As one of the organizers of the event, Christian said, “I think it was incredibly important for students to have the opportunity to meet with administrators, learn some facts about how our financial aid system compares to our peer institutions and actually have a discussion about a topic that is all too often pushed aside as though it doesn’t impact a great deal of students on this campus.”
“I consider any meeting between administrators and students where information is shared a success because that shows a converging of people who are committed to improving the experience of all on this campus,” Christian said.
As a result of the event, Dudley plans on ensuring the financial aid office has regular opportunities to hear student experiences. The College also plans to publicize its policies on undocumented students, a concern raised by multiple students in attendance.
Dudley will continue to work with the financial aid office to help improve the experience for students at the College before assuming the presidency of Washington and Lee University in January. “I benefited from hearing the students’ questions and concerns, and I appreciated the opportunity to explain the goals and principles of financial aid,” Dudley said.