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Financial Aid Working Group presents final report

The Financial Aid Working Group, appointed and created by President Byerly in April 2022, recently published their final report of recommendations. The working group consisted of current and past trustees, staff, faculty and students. Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Art Rodriguez ’96 and Professor of Economics Michael Hemesath were co-chairs. 

The working group was part of Carleton 2033 — otherwise known as Carleton’s strategic planning process — and was charged with “look[ing] at our current financial aid policies and approach in light of our current priorities and external challenges.” The group was also charged with examining “how our financial aid program can remain competitive in bringing us the best students,” as well “how our IDE goals can best be supported by our financial aid program.”

It is worth noting that the Working Group’s charge was also influenced by the previous strategic planning processes. The Board of Trustees had previously established a number of guidelines in 2012 — “At least 50% of the student body should receive some financial aid,” “The average aid package will meet 45% or more of Carleton‘s cost of attendance” and “At least 30% of the entering class should be middle-income, as currently defined by family income between $42,000 and $170,000.”

Nevertheless, the Working Group suggested three main changes to existing policy. 

The first suggestion recommends “Modify[ing] Carleton’s use of loans in financial aid packaging: no loans for families with incomes of less than $100,000 (or 150% of the median US household income) and decrease loan amount to approximately $3,000 yearly for other students on aid.”

According to the report, eliminating loans for students with family incomes of lower than $100,000 would eliminate loans for approximately 24% of Carleton students. Based on current loan packaging, this would cost $1.8 million. Additionally, reducing the loan burden for income thresholds above $100,000 to a maximum of $3,000 per year will decrease the average loan burden for the remaining 31% of financial aid recipients by approximately $2,875 annually and $11,500 over the student’s four years. This change was estimated to cost $2.1 million.

The report also cited “the changing competitive landscape among Carleton’s peers” as the rationale behind this recommendation. The report noted that “more schools are decreasing or eliminating loans … [these recommendations increase] Carleton’s competitiveness among the 15 top-ranked Liberal Arts Colleges by U.S. News, as 60% of them currently do not package any loans … and an additional 20% phase out loans for their highest need students.” The report cited that Carleton is one of only three schools (the other two being Claremont McKenna College and Washington & Lee University) from that list to continue packaging loans for all students.

Second, the report recommended that Carleton ‘increase the percentage of the lowest family incomes in the student body, using the lower/middle income cutoff as established by the Trustees (currently $42,000) from the current 8.7% to 10% over four years,’ which amounts approximately to an increase of 25 students in a typical first-year class. 

The change will also increase the number of students who qualify as Pell-eligible by approximately 20 per year, increasing the overall proportion of Pell-eligible students in a typical

class to 19%. It is worth noting that 19% of Carleton’s class of 2027 are Pell-eligible, according to Dean Art Rodriguez ’96 in a Carleton Today announcement on May 11, 2023. 

The report also noted that the goal is to “increase socioeconomic diversity in the student body by increasing the number of students in the lower tail of the income distribution while maintaining at 30% the middle income target to avoid a barbell (bi-modal) income distribution often seen at highly selective institutions.” These changes would ultimately increase the percentage of students on financial aid to just over 60%.

The third suggestion recommends “[d]ecreas[ing] the work requirement in student aid packages by 1-2 hours a week and increase compensation (by $1-3 an hour) for a select group of jobs that are deemed hard to fill (e.g. dining).”

The report argued for a model in which “aid recipients could choose, but not be required, to work Carleton’s maximum allowable hours. This … would allow the possibility for student earnings to cover non-budgeted costs (OCS travel, computers, music lessons, etc.) and ideally limit the number of students who leave campus to work in Northfield.”

The report also included the recommendation to implement a differential or tiered wage scale in order to “make each campus job’s combination of compensation and working conditions attractive to students.” This is a recommendation supported by findings from the report made by the Student Employment Subcommittee published in January 2023. 

Finally, the Financial Aid Working Group’s report recommended that the college “consider giving priority in hiring to students whose financial aid award includes a work allowance,” such as “Allow[ing] for a hiring period of x days for work study students before opening jobs up to all students.”

The Working Group estimated that the annual costs of the three main proposals would amount to $6.4 million. 

Some students had positive reactions to the proposals made by the Working Group.

“I think the recommendations are good all around … loans can often be a burden still to some families … so of course it’s good that they are thinking of giving only grants for lower income families,” Aldo Polanco ’23 stated. 

“I was quite pleased with the proposal to replace loans with grants, in particular,” added Victoria Bradjan ’25, who attended the open session this past Tuesday to discuss the report’s recommendations. “Because ‘No-Loan Colleges’ have gained notable traction in the news and many schools similar to Carleton are already offering it, I strongly support the proposal and feel it’ll be crucial for Carleton, competitively, to keep up with this widespread financial aid shift.”

“Another obviously good thing is increasing the number of students coming from Pell-eligible families. Carleton isn’t particularly known for socioeconomic diversity nor social mobility potential, and I feel it’s a step in the right direction.” Polanco elaborated. “The work requirement reduction in hours is also a good thing, provided they let students continue to work all ten hours if they choose to — like the report recommends.”

Students also, however, noted potential room for additional improvement for growth.

“Of course, there are ways to continue building on it. Williams College, for example, committed to removing all loans and work-study requirements on financial aid packages,” Polanco mentioned. “If Williams can get there, I’d hope Carleton was on the way or there already.”

“I’ve received a lot of feedback from low-income Carls, and one of the most reported issues is travel and flights, so I was sure to ask about the Working Group’s progress on that front.” Bradjan said. “I was quite pleased with [Senior Associate Dean and Director of Student Financial Aid] Danielle [Hayden]’s response [during the open session] — assuring that they’re re-examining established methods of calculating these expenses. Unfortunately there were other topical issues that weren’t so clearly answered when brought up … like how to address food insecurity.”

The Working Group’s report, however, is not final college policy. The Coordinating Committee, which anchors Carleton strategic planning, will examine the report and integrate final policy changes into a strategic plan. 

Faculty, students and staff can share any thoughts or ideas on the strategic planning on the Carleton 2033 website. 

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