Deans Discuss Board of Managers’ FinAid Cut Decision

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The budget cuts proposed by the Financial Planning Group, which were approved by the Board of Managers this weekend. Image courtesy of the FPG.

On Sunday, Deans Bock and Campbell joined Student Council’s weekly open meetings to discuss the decisions made by the Board of Managers approving budget cuts, in their December meeting. Cuts in financial aid, one of the most contentious issues for students, were approved.

Students, administrators, and this weekend the Board have been debating where Financial Aid’s budget cut should come from; the three feasible options boiled down to increasing the amount students were expected to contribute from working during the school year, increasing the expected summer contribution, or reinstating the recently-removed loan component.

At this meeting, Jim Bock ’90, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, said the Board approved the Ad Hoc Group’s suggestion about this cut. Thus, the 2.1% reduction in the Financial Aid Office’s budget, amounting to $457,000, will likely come from an increased sum of summer expectation. The exact amount of this increase will not be clear until the Board’s February meeting, but will be approximately $600 according to the administration’s recently posted Q&A; about the aid cuts. Bock said that “the core” of financial aid at Swarthmore, the need-blind admissions policy and the policy of reaching the “demonstrated need” of each student, would remain untouchable.

Bock’s supporting reasons for the choice to raise the summer expectation included the impracticality of increasing students’ term-time expectations and the strong resistance against asking students to take out loans in order to pay tuition, as was done before the FAO’s loan-free initiative launched in spring 2008.

Bock noted that of the 70% of students who work on campus, 54% use their job to contribute for financial aid, while 46% do not—the figures, he said, surprised him because he has expected the work study portion to be larger. Bock went on to say that since so many non-aided students have campus jobs, a change to the number of expected hours to term-time work for work study students—from 7.5 hours/week to 10—could adversely impact non-aided working students. He stressed the tenet of shared responsibility, which is one of the Board’s guiding principles; “every constituent,” Bock said, “should have a shared contribution” in the budget change.

Both Bock and Garikai Campbell ’90, Acting Dean of Students, also stated that while loans are not in the official suggested package now, and will probably remain off the table for next year, many students decide to use loans in order to cover their suggested contributions anyway. For students that may find the new summer expectation burdensome, the deans suggested purchasing loans to cover part of the cost.

Kevin Kim ’11, a member of the Student Financial Advisory Panel and the College Budget Committee, asked whether the FAO was considering planning a mechanism to help students identify loans to substitute for the increase in the summer expectation component —he inquired especially about international students, who don’t qualify for federal Stafford loans. Bock said that the FAO was, “as always, ready to help” students along the process, but that Director of Financial Aid Laura Talbot was better suited to answer specific questions in this area.

Anjali Jaiman ‘10, another member of the SFAP, asked whether changing summer recommendation might be reconsidered at the February board meeting; she said that a loan component, while worse for appearances, might be better for students than an increased expectation for summer work.

Bock agreed that reviving suggested loans was not off the table. “That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said; “that’s why we want to continue dialogue: this is $6.9 million towards an $8 million plan.”

But he noted that since ED admission decisions will be sent out soon, loans, being a “significant policy change,” were not something he wanted to reinstate for the class of 2014’s first year at Swarthmore.

Bock also said that any decision made couldn’t be “fair”—”there’s going to be pain across all levels,” he said, and one of the school’s “guiding principles” is the aspect of shared responsibility. He has heard from students with and without financial aid, he said, and that while opinions on loans varied, he generally found a consensus among students that increasing term-time contribution was the least desirable option.

Aid from scholarships has increased by 30% over the last two years, despite the struggles in the economy, said Bock. This signals a positive sign for continuing financial support from the college even as student needs increase.

Yet in the long run, Bock said, “we need to continue to be here doing the right thing for our students,” reaffirming the need for budget cuts to financial aid. Because of the “unsustainable model” of increasingly expensive higher education, he said, the future of the endowment has to be stable.

Will Glovinsky ’12 asked whether all of the cuts approved by the Board would take effect immediately, or be implemented in phases. Vice President for Facilities and Services Stu Hain stated that the $6.9 million in cuts that the Board approved will be distributed over the next few years: operating budget cuts will be enacted more quickly, while changes to academic departments will take place over the next few years, mainly by attrition.

Near the end of the meeting, StuCo secretary Stephan Lefebvre ’11 said that the creation of the SFAP seemed like a “consolation” for the lack of student representation on the Ad Hoc committee, while StuCo president Rachel Bell ’10 said that the student panel might actually be a new forum for student-administration conversations about finances. Bock affirmed administration support, saying that the decision to continue panel meetings was entirely up to students.