On summer earnings: A case against an unequitable requirement

Konnor Herbst

I love Williams and am incredibly thankful for my place here, but I think that as an institution, we can become better at many things. One particularly frustrating aspect of the Williams experience is the summer earnings requirement. This requirement boils down to different things, depending on your perspective. For students, the requirement is an extra $1950 added to their term bills that reduces to $1300 for those in extreme need, such as students on full financial aid. To the College, the requirement represents an annual income of about $3,000,000.
Some students may not notice the summer earnings requirement bundled in with their term bills because their parents pay their term bills, or they are lucky, hard-working or well-connected enough to have high-paying summer jobs and are able to set aside some money to pay the requirement. However, for students with lower-paying summer jobs or students that must send money home to help support their families, the requirement is an immense yearly burden. Oftentimes these students are forced to take out loans to meet the requirement – even if they demonstrate 100-percent financial need.
The College defends the summer earnings requirement by asserting that it “expects you to contribute in an important and meaningful way through your own assets, summer and campus earnings and, in some cases, a student loan.” For those students already with demonstrated need, however, the requirement hampers their quests to bring themselves and their families up from poverty. Instead of putting the money towards purchasing necessities, the money goes directly to the College. The biggest question then is what’s “meaningful” about forcing students to borrow money that they never thought they’d have to borrow or about taking most of a student’s summer earnings. In reality, the summer earnings requirement doesn’t bring any sense of accomplishment to students; it simply works to keep poor students poor throughout their time at the College.
In addition to the financial burden that the requirement puts on students, it also restricts summer opportunities. A wealthy student who does not need to worry about the summer earnings requirement is able to choose summer experiences without considering income. On the other hand, students who rely on financial aid to attend the College must consider income, and many students therefore forgo valuable experiences with non-profits and the like to pay their requirements. Even though the College allows you to waive the requirement for one summer and offers alumni sponsored internship grants in place to help, that is simply a Band-Aid on a festering wound that needs to be addressed. Instead of offering temporary solutions to students, the College should adapt its summer earnings policy to ensure that students will not have to abandon opportunities in order to send a check to the office of student accounts.
I understand that the summer earnings requirement is not unique to Williams, but that does not mean it is reasonable – especially in its current form. The College must recognize that the requirement is a burden that is not equally and proportionally shared by students. Instead, if the College insists on maintaining the requirement, it should strive to make it more equitable by considering scaling the summer requirement with a student’s financial aid or getting rid of the requirement entirely.
I truly believe in Williams and think that as an institution we can lead the charge in changing or removing policies like the summer earnings requirement that only serve to hamper the prospects of students in need.

Konnor Herbst ’20 is from Tahlequah, Okla. He is a math and English double major.