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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A defense of Carleton’s commitment to Financial Aid

<m the son of a single lower income working mother and have been given the opportunity to attend Carleton almost entirely on the basis of financial aid, work study, and student loans. As an economically “diverse” student, I strongly object to the arguments about the College's commitment to diversity in last week's Viewpoint article, which I found to be deeply disconcerting in both substance and presentation.

The authors of the article claim that Carleton is favoring the “creation of an increasingly elitist demographic” in which poor students are a token minority allowed to attend only because “they appease the consciences of the elite who patronize this institution.” What is the evidence for this rather startling claim? The authors of last week’s article point to the College’s decision to give “very modest compensation increases” to College employees. They liken this increase to the AIG bonus scandal, but had they included the remainder of the sentence they were quoting, it would have been clear to their readers that this increase in compensation was intended to “cover for most employees the increased expense for health care coverage.” Far from being the act of elitism implied by the article, this increase is the College putting into action its progressive commitment to providing its employees with a wage that keeps pace with the cost of living.

The authors also neglect to mention that Carlton has increased funds available for financial aid by $1.7 million (6.6%) this year and are taking steps to target this increase towards eliminating the loans of the lowest income students at Carleton, while also taking steps to reduce the rate of tuition increase. I get these figures from the same paragraph as the quote which they take objection to. This use of editorial license unfairly misrepresents the College’s actions on behalf of lower income students by omitting the significant efforts being put forth by the administration on our behalf and misconstrues the College’s dedication to wide ranging socio-economic justice as a form of corporate greed.

The reality of the situation is that Carleton’s administration very frequently puts its money where its mouth is. According to the 2007-08 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, the average amount of institutional financial aid received by students at private, 4-year non-doctorate-granting institutions is $8,900 per year. In comparison, Carleton offers an average of $25,831 in institutional aid, almost three times the national average for comparable institutions. In addition, our financial aid distribution is very heavily weighted towards lower income students: the average amount of institutional aid given to first year students from families making less than $50,000 (the median American household income) is roughly $33,000 per year, almost four times the national average for institutional aid awarded by comparable institutions. Carleton clearly puts a strong financial emphasis on making its education affordable.

The author’s suggestions are equally as upsetting. They suggest that we should lay off our most senior faculty and staff, while at the same time instituting a hiring freeze of new employees. They justify this targeted layoff scheme by arguing that “this age bracket receives the most in compensation and has had the most time to accumulate personal savings.” I would add that those over the age of 55 also rely on those savings far more than others, savings which lost almost half their value in the market crash. Those near retirement age are some of the hardest hit in this recession – is it really progressive to be targeting them for termination? In addition, such a program of layoffs would get rid of our most experienced faculty, increase class size, keep other experienced professors from applying to work at Carleton, and decrease the academic quality of Carleton’s educational experience overall. If the reason we want to increase Carleton’s diversity is to provide an opportunity for lower income students to get a high quality education, what sense does it make to trade the quality of that education for additional diversity?

I whole-heartedly support the cause of making education affordable for lower income students, but to accuse the college of cynically cultivating a culture of “token” poor students and elite favoritism while simultaneously suggesting that we put a moratorium on cost of living increases for our employees and lay off our longest serving faculty during a time of acute economic difficulty for them strikes me as short sighted and narrow minded, not progressive. That the authors of last week’s article support such an argument by selectively quoting incomplete information out of context suggests to me that they are more interested in fanning the flames of student outrage than in constructively approaching the goal of making Carleton more affordable. We should be taking a critical, informed, and dispassionate look at the challenges facing us as an institution rather than trying to create a “students-vs-administration” dynamic that can ultimately only hurt Carleton as a whole.

Finally, for my part, I would like to thank the administration for all the hard work and tough choices it has made with regards to the formulation of financial aid policy. It may not be perfect, and we all have a bone or two to pick with you from time to time, but without it many of us wouldn’t be here to get on your case. Thank you.

-Keith Carr-Lee is a fourth-year student.

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