In an effort to achieve “true affordability” for its students, Williams College this month announced that it will eliminate loans and work-study requirements from financial aid packages beginning fall 2022 for current and incoming students, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Approximately 53% of Williams’s 2,121 undergraduates receive financial aid, and around 20% of its student body is eligible for a federal Pell Grant.
Under the plan, students from low- and middle-income families—those making less than $75,000 or between $75,000 to $175,000 a year, respectively—will receive 100% of their aid in the form of grants, which do not need to be repaid. Students will no longer be required to work, but if they choose to do so, they can use the earnings however they see fit, according to Higher Ed Dive. Officials at the college say Williams is the first U.S. institution to both adopt an “all-grant” financial aid policy and eliminate work requirements.
Achieving ‘true affordability’
Williams’s “true affordability” ambition seeks to ensure that students can not only afford to enroll college costs but also participate fully in college life without worrying about financial burdens.
Even before the latest announcement, Williams had taken several steps to reduce students’ required financial contributions and increase aid. The college offers a comprehensive financial aid package covering costs like health insurance, travel expenses, summer storage, study abroad, lab and art supplies, and course materials, in addition to awarding $1,850 a year for personal expenses, Inside Higher Ed says.
Several months ago, Williams also announced that it would no longer require a summer work contribution from financial aid recipients. Previously, students on financial aid were required to provide $1,550 a year from their summer earnings toward their cost of attendance. Williams officials say they hope this new “summer exploration initiative” will free students to spend their summers exploring their own career options rather than working simply to make their contribution.
The college’s new all-grant program further eliminates work-study requirements altogether during the academic year. Williams students like Eunice Kim welcome the change. Kim, a junior who has held several work-study jobs, tells Williams Today that “students like me will be able to dedicate those gained hours to classes, extracurriculars, friends… maybe even a little more sleep.”
Some low- and middle-income families at Williams also have seen their expected contributions shrink following changes the college made last year to its financial aid methodology. One in six students’ financial contributions decreased by $4,500 last year, according to Higher Ed Dive.
The cost for tuition, room, board, and fees at Williams will be $77,300 in the 2022-23 academic year, but its average financial aid package will now cover $70,000 annually. The college calculates that, under its new aid approach, students from middle-income families will receive an additional $35,000 in aid over four years. Low-income students, meanwhile, are already receiving loan-free aid packages but, with the latest changes, will now receive an additional $16,000 in grants.
Part of a larger push to shrink student costs
This is not Williams’s first attempt to remove loans from its financial aid packages. The Chronicle reports that the college did so in 2008 but abandoned the policy in 2010 amid financial pressures. In fiscal year 2021, the college’s endowment increased from $2.8 billion to $4.2 billion, and Williams had renewed confidence in increasing its yearly financial aid budget, which will grow by $6.75 million to reach $77.5 million.
Williams is not the only college to eliminate loans from its financial aid packages. In 2001, Princeton’s Board of Trustees voted to replace loans with grants for students on financial aid. The Chronicle reports that, during the past two decades, more than 75 public and private colleges, including Amherst College, Harvard University, Smith College, and other highly competitive institutions, have created their own loan-free financial aid programs for all students or those who meet certain income criteria.