Students Petition President Roth to Change Financial Aid Donation Policy

 financial-aid-101

A little under a week ago, I posted a video in which Josh Krugman ’14 took the microphone at a senior class reception and, immediately following speeches by University administrators exhorting members of the senior class to donate to Wesleyan, asked his fellow seniors to not donate in protest of the University’s abandoning of need-blind admissions and alleged fiscal irresponsibility. The post generated a debate over whether alumni should give to the University – informed in part by a recent letter from alumni who withheld donations on “Giving Tuesday” due to the University’s financial aid policies.

This post was followed immediately by a post by pyrotechnics about the 68% figure referenced in Josh’s speech. This post shed light on a serious problem with the way the University deals with financial aid donations:

There is currently no way for donors to increase the amount of money the University plans to spend on financial aid. Given the budget cap, there is no such mechanism for that right now, confirmed to me by President Michael Roth himself. (Again, note that there is a way to decrease the amount of money spent: not donating.) This is something I (wearing a different hat) am currently working on fixing with University Relations, with tentative support from both President Roth and Barbara-Jan Wilson.

In response to this and the fact that the number of students on grant-based matriculation aid fell this past year, Benny Docter ‘14, Danny Blinderman ’14, and Josh Krugman ’14 presented a letter to the administration calling for a revision to the financial aid donation policy. This letter, cosigned by WSA leadership, campus group leaders, student fundraisers, Greek-life presidents, and others, makes two simple demands on the administration:

1) Donors should be able to specify that 100% of their gift goes to increase financial aid for the following school year; 2) Donors should be able to specify that 100% of their gift goes into the endowment for financial aid, to be drawn at a rate equal to the annual draw rate of the endowment as a whole, and could be spent only on permanently increasing the number and quality of financial aid packages that the University offers.

The idea is that any donation made in this new manner would result in an increase in financial aid spending proportional to the size of the gift – as opposed to the current system, where all donations received are already planned for in the financial aid budget. The letter does not call for a boycott on donations to financial aid, nor does it ask for a return to need-blind admissions. Rather, it demands that the University allow those who donate to financial aid to increase financial aid spending as a total portion of the University budget in the same way that alumni donations to athletic programs or academic departments do not result in a corresponding decrease in the funding those programs receive from the University.

Benny Docter ’14 told me that finding cosignatories was not difficult, and explained why this policy change is so necessary:

On the whole, we found gathering signatures for this proposal quite easy. I think this is because people saw this as striking an important balance between caring for our University as a community, but also always looking for ways to bring the reality on campus closer in line with our community ideals. Even across such a broad group of different student leaders, once people heard the proposal, nearly everyone who we asked ended up signing our letter.

I do want to highlight one really important thing this letter clarifies: In the reactions to Josh’s protest last week, there were a lot of people who criticized him by insisting the issues here were just “simple math”. People often said some version of the following argument: first, not giving won’t solve Wesleyan’s financial trouble (which is obviously true), but then they’d say, the best way we can make this campus more inclusive is if everybody gives more money. I’ll admit that the argument seems logical enough, in light of the University’s current policy, the second claim is simply wrong. Wesleyan could use more money for sure, but unless we see some policy changes, we have no reason to believe the money will ever produce any improvements in financial aid packages.

Regarding the extent of the proposal, the letter writers clarify that this is not the solution to Wesleyan’s financial aid issues, but merely a step in the right direction:

We are under no illusions that this policy will solve all of the many problems of class-based exclusion and discrimination at Wesleyan. If this proposal is accepted, the need-aware policy will remain in place, there will still be much work to be done on issues of socio-economic diversity and inclusion.

The letter has been presented to President Roth, and Wesleying will make a post when and if he responds. For those who are interested, the full text of the letter, as well as a list of cosignatories, is below:

Petition to the Administration of Wesleyan University:

Dear President Roth,

There has been a great deal of controversy with regard to financial aid on this campus over the past year and a half. Many numbers and statistics have been floated from all sides of the discussion. We have heard talk about a 68-32 split in University resource allocation. We have heard that we are “need blind” for 90% of applicants and that we use class-based discrimination for only 10% of admitted students. We have heard that your administration is doing all it can to support diversity and affordability, but we have heard others question whether there might be parts of the budget less central to Wesleyan’s core ethical and educational mission than financial aid, which could be cut further in order to increase access. All this comes amidst an important and ongoing conversation among students, faculty, staff, alumni, and administrators about the safety and inclusivity of the on-campus community for minority groups. In short, as members of this community we have frequently been asked to question whether we are doing all we can to make Wesleyan the most inclusive place it can be.

We, the undersigned, have grown increasingly concerned that there is currently no way for students, alumni, and community members to give money to Wesleyan in a way that directly increases financial aid spending, whereas donors to other programs have this option. For example, the College of Social Studies has been able to accept donations specifically to endow and fund its fall and spring banquets, without any corresponding decrease in the academic funding it received from the University; likewise, the athletic department received donations for a new turf field without any subsequent decrease in their University budgets. Because alumni found these causes to be important and donated the necessary money for them to be realized, they were able to create substantive on-campus changes with their gifts.

There is no equivalent system for donations to financial aid. It is at present impossible for donors to actively increase the amount Wesleyan spends on aid each year over the amount we initially choose to budget. This fundamental, unjustified asymmetry in current University policy prevents alumni, students, and parents who are primarily interested in supporting inclusivity and social justice at Wesleyan from giving their money in a way that satisfies their values and interests.

Under current policy, a gift to the University is interpreted by some as a demonstration of active support for Wesleyan’s current spending priorities across the budget. To donate, even specifically to financial aid, means accepting that one’s donation will support a 32% discount rate and no higher, while simultaneously accepting and, in effect, subsidizing the other fiscal priorities which compete with financial aid. In light of the fact that gifts that do not change policy are seen as a barometer of satisfaction with the policies of the University at a given time, many in the Wesleyan community feel they cannot give to Wesleyan right now, because such donations would constitute too broad a statement of support for the University’s policies.Although some of us have actively participated in protests against current Wesleyan policies, we are all sensitive and cognizant of the reality that Wesleyan depends on gifts to continue to operate. Furthermore, we readily concede that boycotting Wesleyan’s fundraising efforts has the negative and potentially self-defeating side effect of making it more difficult for Wesleyan to fund financial aid packages for students who need them. However, many students and alumni feel caught in a double-bind: they acknowledge the problems with boycotting, yet resist endorsing Wesleyan’s current fiscal priorities as a whole. In order to maintain financial support from students and alumni, we think it is critically important that Wesleyan begin accepting a new type of donation that produces an immediate increase in the amount of aid available for poor and middle-class students.

A signature below indicates support for the following two proposals which would offer new ways to give to Wesleyan: 1) Donors should be able to specify that 100% of their gift goes to increase financial aid for the following school year; 2) Donors should be able to specify that 100% of their gift goes into the endowment for financial aid, to be drawn at a rate equal to the annual draw rate of the endowment as a whole, and could be spent only on permanently increasing the number and quality of financial aid packages that the University offers.

We believe that creating these new options for giving will empower more people in the Wesleyan community to donate in a way that directly supports their priorities for the University. Though our policies and ideologies often differ, we think all sides of the debate over financial aid are invested in a more inclusive Wesleyan. By working together on clearly workable changes like this one, we can come closer to making our shared goals and vision for Wesleyan a reality. This will undoubtedly help the “SWAG” committee recruit willing donors from among their senior classmates. It will also help many others who work so hard on fundraising efforts here, from alumni class officers, to the staff in University Relations, to the many students employed at the Red and Black calling society. The many staff and volunteers who give their time and effort to fundraising will now be able to proudly and truthfully say to parents, students, and alumni who are concerned about the inclusivity of a Wesleyan education that their money will go directly to increasing the diversity and vitality of the Wesleyan student body, both now and in the years to come. It is our view that we are capable of working together to make Wesleyan a better, more inclusive place.

We are under no illusions that this policy will solve all of the many problems of class-based exclusion and discrimination at Wesleyan. If this proposal is accepted, the need-aware policy will remain in place, there will still be much work to be done on issues of socio-economic diversity and inclusion. However, we believe that the school should enact this policy change to empower members of the Wesleyan community with the means to give to their alma mater without implicitly endorsing all of our school’s budgeting decisions as they currently stand.

President Roth, you recently said to Smithsonian Magazine “We will do anything we can to make sure that people who qualify for an education of this caliber can have one.” This is a clear opportunity for you to do so.

Signed, Benny Docter ’14, Danny Blinderman ’14, and Josh Krugman ’14

With co-signatories:

Wesleyan Student Assembly Leadership:
Nicole Updegrove ’14 (President, WSA)
Mari Jarris ’14 (Former Vice-President, WSA)
Nicki Softness ’14 (Chair, Student Budget Committee)
Scott Elias ’14 (Chair, WSA Financial Aid Committee)

Student Fundraisers:
Allison Greenwald ’14 (Student Manager, Red and Black Calling Society)
Molly Stern ’14 (Class Director, SWAG)
Paulette Campo ’14 (Class Director, SWAG)

Greek-Life Presidents:
Jose Jaime de Venecia IV ’15 (President, Psi U)
Everton Laidley ’14 (President, Phi Beta Sigma)
Matthew B Gross ’15 (President, Beta Theta Pi)
Roxy Capron ’14 (President, Rho Epsilon) 15
Peter George ’15 (President, Delta Kappa Epsilon)
Eric Jones ’16 (President, Chi Psi)
Shinekwa Kershaw ’15 (President, Eclectic Society)
Duane J Chen ’15 (President, Alpha Delta Phi)
Michael Creager ’15 (Incoming President, Alpha Epsilon Pi)

Editors of Campus Publications:

Samira Siddique ’15 (Managing Editor, Wesleying)
pyrotechnics (Editor, Wesleying)
Olivia Horton ’14 (Executive Editor, The Wesleyan Argus)
Abbey Francis ’14 (Executive Editor, The Wesleyan Argus)
Claire Bradach ’15 (Executive Editor, The Wesleyan Argus)

Other Student Leaders:
Christian Hosam ’15 (Intern, University Organizing Center)
Izzy Rode ’14 (Head Resident, Residential Life)
Lucy Britt ’14 (Co-Site Director, Let’s Get Ready)
Julian Theseira ’14 (Co-chair, Freeman Asian Scholars Association)
Chloe Rinehart ’14 (Co-Site Director, Let’s Get Ready)
Ben Florsheim ’14 (President, Wesleyan Democrats)
Michael Migiel-Schwartz ’14 (Founder, Wesleyan Democratic-Socialists)
Emily Sannini ’14 (President, Woodrow Wilson Debate Society)
Matthew Conley ’15 (Vice President, Finance The Woodrow Wilson Debate Society)

Related Posts:
Newsweek: “Diversity U. Makes a U-Turn” on Activism and Ideals (12/13/13)
The 68 Percent Figure: Where Did It Come From? (12/9/13)
Josh Krugman ’14 Speaks at Senior Reception about Need-Blind (12/8/13)
Need Blind: Alums Withhold Donations on Admin’s “Giving Tuesday” (12/3/13)
Good News: The Endowment is Up 12% (11/6/13)
Need-Blind Wes Is Back (11/2/13)
President Roth, I Expect Your Efforts Redoubled (9/1/13)

[Special thanks to Michael Migiel-Schwartz ’14 for significant help in the writing of this post]

  • Tentatively enthusiastic alum

    Now this is a good idea!

  • Y’15

    Just wanna point out an inaccuracy/something few realize: Even BEFORE the need-aware policy happened, it was already normal that almost 10% of each class year had been admitted on a need-aware basis, because even when Wes was better off financially it had always been need-aware for international students. As long as they could slap on the label “need-blind” though that was enough to keep people happy…. Don’t forget that in both your fact-checking and your fight.

    • alum

      need aware for transfers too, I believe…

    • NB organizer

      We haven’t forgotten that Wes was never Need-Blind for international students and transfers.

  • Heck yeah

    Right on! Seems like a good opportunity for Wes to make something positive out of the fever of the last few weeks and probably increase donations significantly to round out the current campaign.

  • not jackson

    hahahaha jackson

  • Jackson Ulrich

    Other Student Leaders: Jackson Ulrich ’14, Resident of 43 Fountain Avenue