On April 13, NESCAC’s partner institution, Williams College, announced its commitment to move to an entirely grant-based financial aid system, eliminating loans and work-study programs. This change would benefit the 53% of students who receive financial aid, at a cost of $6.75 million per year.
In his letter to the Williams community, President Maud Mandel said that the “program is a critical step in our quest for what we are beginning to call ‘true affordability’ – a program that encompasses the costs of attendance and full and equal participation. »
This formulation underscores that financial aid programs that require students to take loans or work up to 20 hours a week on campus do not correspond to true equity and accessibility for higher education. Essentially, components of financial aid programs like Middlebury’s can often tilt the playing field more than help level it.
With this in mind, we ask Middlebury to carefully review its current financial aid system. We fully recognize that we are a different institution from Williams, with different financial resources and capabilities. However, Middlebury and Williams also share many similarities, and we believe that their ability to make a real difference in the lives of their students through this change can provide a model for our college to take similar action. After all, as can be seen in the impending replacements of Proctor and Battell, Middlebury have been able to raise financial capital to change elements of campus life that they do not see as sustainable.
Rethinking affordability doesn’t need to start with a massive overhaul, either. Williams has previously set an example by making textbooks, health insurance and summer storage free for financial aid students.
There is no doubt that students receiving financial aid should have the opportunity to participate in campus life in the same way as their peers. Students who must spend several hours a week working as part of their federal work-study benefits have less time and energy to devote to their university studies, extracurricular activities and social life. As a result, their ability to lead “engaged, consequential and creative lives,” as stated in Middlebury’s mission statement, is significantly hampered.
In addition to the heavy time commitment posed by professional study requirements, the anxiety surrounding student loans also hampers a person’s ability to pursue academic independence and creativity. Students who know they will have to repay their student loans are more likely to direct their education to a field that will guarantee them job security and a sustainable source of income after graduation.
This pressure is completely contrary to Middlebury’s vision of an interdisciplinary liberal arts education. If only well-off students feel they can afford to focus on the humanities or the arts, what are the implications for the school community?
In an article about Williams’ new financial aid program, The Washington Post notes in an anecdote about a young graduate that “having loans would probably have pushed him to choose the highest paying career possible […] rather than pursuing a postgraduate scholarship and trying out different jobs. If Middlebury really wants us accept inquiry and agency In order to practice ethical citizenship after graduation, concerns about financial feasibility must be alleviated.
At the end of the day, Middlebury students are here to learn – not to deliver mozzarella sticks to drunken peers at 1 a.m., not to work until midnight at MiddExpress and not to slip in the lines of students in the dining hall. We are all here to enjoy a rich social and academic environment, and we all deserve the same opportunities to do so, without our time being limited by the constraints of work-study.
Students on financial aid should not be required to work in the service of their peers to allow themselves to exist here. The system as it currently stands only serves to exacerbate pre-existing inequalities in our community, and as Williams has demonstrated, that need not be the case.