Since September, the Student Budget Sustainability Task Force has met regularly and worked diligently. The goal of this group is to evaluate current budget practices to determine whether need blind is sustainable and advisable and to make recommendations that ensure the university’s future affordability and accessibility. We are probing the question: are there cost savings, budget cuts, or new revenue opportunities that will allow us to maintain need blind admission or to free up more money for financial aid?
So far we have examined numerous Wesleyan budget documents. We have also met with Associate Vice President of Finance Nate Peters and, with the help of community members, conducted extensive peer research on schools such as MacAlester, Reed, Hamilton, Kenyan, Brown, Whitman, and Tufts. In the coming weeks, we will be meeting with all of the university’s top administrators to ask them how and why they spend their money. Most important of them is President Roth, who we’ll be sitting down with on Monday, October 22nd.
In the next month, we will be engaging the student body to understand their budget priorities. Which are the budget items or features of Wesleyan that students would be willing to sacrifice and which are the ones that must be preserved? We will be conducting a survey and hosting a forum in November to understand where students stand. This will greatly help inform our final recommendations.
The Task Force recognizes that eliminating need blind is not necessary–it is a choice–and that in order to justify it, evidence must be marshaled to demonstrate that it is the least bad choice given the alternatives. So far that evidence has not been fully presented to students and other community members. Many questions linger. Posing those questions to President Roth and gaining more clarity on the university’s direction is essential not only for the task force to issue its recommendations but also for students to make their own decisions about whether to support the policy shift. With the help of community members, we have compiled a long list of unanswered questions, which I’ve shared below and I’ve already shared with President Roth’s office.
We also invite you to propose questions to President Roth and send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to another member of the task force. They are Jesse Ross-Silverman ‘13, Andrew Trexler ‘14, Kevin Arritt ‘13, Rachel Warren ‘14, Nate Campagne ‘15, Michael Linden ‘15, Chi Le ‘ 13, Lina Mamut ‘13, Alex Japko ‘14, and Michelle (Xiyue) Li ‘16.
– Is need awareness temporary or permanent? Does the school have any intention of going back to need blind?
– How would raising different amounts of money (i.e. $300 million, 350 million, 400 million, 450 million) correspond to our ability to be more affordable in various ways, such as our ability to increase grant aid and our ability to go back to need blind? Can this be mapped out in detail?
– Would you be willing to spell out a detailed plan about how to return to need blind? What would be the timeline for such a plan?
– Put differently, President Roth states that we need an additional $5 million per year, or $100 million total – and of course that is in addition to the planned campaign. What efforts is Roth making to achieve those numbers, and under what time frame does he see that happening? For example, if the goal is to achieve a certain amount in ten years, say, and we only achieve that amount, does the next $100 M bring back need-blind, or does a new campaign begin? I just want to see a solid end-game here.
– Will grant levels be going up this year as a result of this move? Will grant levels be going up in the near future as a result of this move?
– Put differently, of the money we’re saving by becoming need-aware, how much of that will be devoted to offering more generous aid packages?
– I am also wondering definitively why Wes alumni donate so much less than alumni of other schools and what other reasons contribute to our relatively small endowment size.
– In other words, we are curious about quantitative profile of our donor base relative to peer institutions: I have heard that Wesleyan alumna have less money than peer schools, is that true? What about the percentage they give to charity versus the percentage given to Wesleyan? How have donations changed in the last x number of years. Are they going up?
– In the past, to what extent and in what ways did the admissions office attempt to determine a student’s need based on “implicit” markers such as SAT scores, hometown, parents’ profession, etc., and how did it play out in the admissions process?
– How exactly will the implementation in admissions be carried out? Walk me through the process. Will the financial aid request be read for all applicants in the admissions process or not, and if not for how many applicants?
– For the implementation, I don’t understand the arithmetic. How does 10% of the admissions pool result in 20 students being affected by the decision?
– How is it that a fixed financial aid budget will accommodate students’ changing financial needs over 4 years at Wesleyan? That is, how can Wesleyan maintain a fixed FA budget, given the fact that students could become much more needy every year, requiring increased funds?
– How exactly was the math done to calculate that the school would be saving $5 million annually by eliminating need blind? Written another way, what is the actual dollar amount that the financial aid cap will save per year, and how is that calculated?
– Many times, executives who don’t really need the money will make a point of taking a $1 a year salary to make an example of the kind of sacrifice that will need to be made to return the company in question to its former glory. Can you imagine what it would be like to make fundraising calls for Wesleyan, and be able to say: “Our president has donated his entire salary for one year to the university, setting the example for other alums and interested donors to follow. What can you do for Wesleyan?” Is this something President Roth would consider?
– It was made clear that the cost of financial aid is increasing at a greater rate than tuition is increasing. But Professor Skillman also made it clear that the percent of students from high-income families has been steadily increasing. Therefore, what is causing the cost of aid to increase at a greater rate than tuition? Are we accepting more low-income students and fewer middle-income students (it would be good to know how the school defines these categories)?
– Following up from the forum, can you provide more clarity about which budget cuts have been considered and which haven’t? Is there anywhere we can find printed documents detailing the consideration of alternative budget plans?
– How is it better to reject students based on their ability to pay (need aware) than it is to give these students the choice of whether to attend Wesleyan if they are willing to take on increased loan levels (rather than reject them outright)?
– How are you going to institutionally incorporate students into decision making in the future?
– Do you see transparency as bringing decisions to the student community, or as including students before decisions are made? Which is more desirable to you?
– Who has the primary say and the final say in issues like this – yourself, the Board, or your cabinet?
– Why does tuition need to start leveling off now as opposed to several years down the line?
– What evidence do we have that the average discount rate will continue to grow rather than lower if we stuck with a need blind policy?
– In Wesleyan 2020 the Board and you said that one of your goals was to maintain need blind admissions, and this was written only 2 years ago. What changed so drastically in the last 2 years that you changed your policy?
– How is it possible to say that socio-economic diversity will not be compromised, if we are by definition spending less on financial aid in the long term? Do we know how the number of students from different income brackets will be affected by this policy?