The Colgate Scene
|By Rebecca Costello|
There is no doubt that going to college pays off. Higher levels of education may lead to higher earnings, but they also correlate to civic participation, write Sandy Baum and Kathleen Payea in Education Pays 2004, a College Board publication outlining the benefits of higher education for individuals and society. But for many, the cost of attending is out of reach.
How to help those who can't afford to pay is a central issue — and a hot topic — in higher education circles. Just this September Margaret Spellings, U.S. secretary of education, announced a new Commission on the Future of Higher Education to develop a comprehensive strategy for postsecondary education. Access and affordability will take center stage. And for many schools such as Colgate, providing access to as many students as possible through financial aid becomes a delicate balancing act, one that can at times be subject to outside forces.
Diana Reding '06 says that her Colgate education "has focused my ambition, but also has given me a different idea of the broad opportunities I have." [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]
Providing the foundation
"Without financial aid, there was no way I could have gone to Colgate," said Gary Eichhorn '75, who majored in chemistry. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native came on a Regent's Scholarship, received a Colgate grant, and held several campus jobs. He has spent 30 years in the technology sector, and today runs his own firm, Eichhorn Group LLC in Boston, Mass., focusing on emerging technology and medical device companies.
Eichhorn said that his Colgate education prepared him well for his career progression. "As management skills become more important — understanding different people and cultures, and knowing the fundamentals of what makes things work — it's the liberal arts background that gives you the foundation to grow," he said.
In gratitude for the chance to come to Colgate, Eichhorn, with his wife Joan and their son Rick '05, recently established an endowed scholarship for students from the Boston area who are interested in computer science or the life sciences.
"There are a lot of very qualified candidates for Colgate who are not going to get a chance to have the same experience, so I'm trying to do my part."
"There is a strong motivation when you get access — you think, this is a great shot, I'm not going to waste it," said Mark Hayes '98, who grew up on a dairy farm. A geology major/economics minor and Alumni Memorial Scholar, he worked after graduation as an analyst in Morgan Stanley's investment bank before heading to Stanford University to pursue an MA and PhD and serve as a research fellow in the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development.
"The personal relationships I developed at Colgate were really important to taking these paths," said Hayes. Serving as a young alumni member of the Board of Trustees (1999-2002) and on the Task Force on Campus Culture, he said, "allowed me to make a contribution to the future of the college that begins to repay the great contribution that Colgate has made to my own personal and professional life."
Obstetrician/gynecologist Stacy Veitch '91 said that she had fallen in love with Colgate, "but I remember my father, who is an auto body repairman, saying, `we cannot guarantee you can go here until we see the final financial package.' But it worked out great. I received a grant, what my parents had to pay was affordable, and for the rest I took loans and had a work-study job in the financial aid office." Veitch credits her Colgate education with giving her a great foundation for becoming a doctor. "I just love my work, and Colgate helped me to go outside of my math/science brain and develop people skills — relating to patients, being able to listen and talk. I'm very grateful for the scholarship program," said Veitch — who still sends a Christmas letter to the financial aid staff every year.
"I was looking for a place that was teaching-centered and had a faculty that was approachable and interested in students," said John Drymon '06. "I also didn't want to come out of college wrapped in student loan debt."
The supporting arm
"Financial aid is the supporting arm of the admission and enrollment process," said Director of Financial Aid Marcelle Tyburski. The amount of aid a student receives is the difference between the cost of attendance and how much the family can contribute according to a needs-analysis computation used in higher education. The family's contribution is derived from information (such as income, investments, number of siblings enrolled in college, and assets) they submit through the College Scholarship Service's PROFILE form as well as the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Aid awards, which typically consist of a Colgate grant, a student loan, and a campus job, are based on the results of the needs-analysis determination.
As tuition at private colleges and universities began to outpace the rise in median income for families during the 1990s, some began to ask whether high-ability middle-class students were being financially squeezed out of the opportunity to attend college.
The term middle class is open to interpretation, to be sure. But the fact is that although the U.S. median household income as determined by the Census Bureau was $44,289 in 2004, even families making several times that amount need assistance paying for college, especially if, for example they have mortgages, other children in college, or unusual debt.
At Colgate, said Financial Vice President and Treasurer David Hale '84, "In addition to aiding the neediest qualified students in our applicant pool, we have maintained a commitment to families whose earnings are between $40,000 and $80,000, and we have broadened our ability to aid families whose annual household income is $100,000 and above." (See chart.)
Colgate's financial aid packaging practices are meant to make college as affordable as possible for families. The university keeps loan levels as low as possible due in part to a longtime policy of not typically adding more than one loan to a student's aid package. As a result, Colgate places fifth among leading liberal arts colleges in lowest debt load for graduates. Nationally, students today graduate from some private colleges with $30,000 or more in loan debt, while Colgate graduates average just over $12,000 in loans. Recognizing that many families may have the majority of their assets tied up in their homes, Colgate caps home equity at two times the family income, which stabilizes a figure that can change drastically given volatile housing markets. If a student receives an outside scholarship, the university reduces the loan or employment eligibility and/or family contribution rather than deducting it from the Colgate grant.
"I'm one of the first in my family to come to a prestigious college, and I have so many plans for the future," said softball player and athletic scholarship recipient Whitney Scott '08. "I've tried to take advantage of everything that I can here."
The balancing act
"Our philosophy is to be as generous as we can, to as many as we can afford, while supporting the high-quality education, programs, and services that students expect from a top-tier institution," said Hale.
In the face of competition against the very best colleges and universities for talented students, Colgate has in recent years invested more not only in funding for academic and extracurricular programs but also in financial aid. From 2001-2002 to 2004-2005, the amount of annual tuition income that Colgate gives back to families in the form of financial aid increased from 28.7 percent ($21.3 million) to 31.6 percent ($27 million). The university depends heavily on tuition income, so that higher spending percentage exerts significant pressure on the rest of the operating budget (see chart).
The pressure stems in large part from the university's low endowment compared to its peers. On U.S. News & World Report's 2006 top 25 Liberal Arts Colleges list, Colgate is 25th in endowment per student. Only 25 percent of Colgate's annual aid budget comes from restricted scholarship endowment income; the other 75 percent must come out of the annual operating budget. Therefore, Hale explained, "the dollars we spend on aid impact our operating budget more than other schools that might spend the same amount but get more funding from their endowments."
In addition, Colgate commits to meeting the full financial need of every student it admits. While some schools practice "gapping" (offering some financial aid but not enough to meet the full need) or "admit/deny" (to admit a qualified student but deny them financial aid), the university does not want to put families in these difficult financial situations.
Once the university has exhausted its budget for aid, it must deny admission for a certain number of qualified students.
"It would be wonderful if Colgate could admit all students regardless of need, but it's true that each year we have to deny a small group of exceedingly strong students because we can't afford to meet their need," said Gary Ross '77, dean of admission. And although the university continues to see the profile of the student body increase each year, it is that elusive goal that administrators speak wistfully of.
In a feasibility experiment, Colgate admitted the Class of 2006 on a need-blind basis. At an additional annual cost of $1.5 million for that one class alone, it became painfully clear that Colgate simply cannot afford to permanently implement such a policy. In fact, only a few U.S. colleges can afford to be need-blind, and the number is shrinking. Oberlin, Carleton, and most recently Macalester have dropped their need-blind admission policies.
"It yielded us an excellent class, but when we looked at costs of going need-blind permanently, we would have to fundamentally change the program we offer Colgate students," said Hale.
Other external forces pulling at Colgate's balancing act relate to competition against other colleges and universities. A number of private colleges continue to offer merit-based awards, using financial aid as a recruiting tool to attract students whose credentials could raise their profiles. The question of academic merit aid has been discussed at Colgate for years ("Financial aid paradox," September 1997).
Recent research by Kevin Rask, professor of economics, backs up the decision to stick with a need-based financial aid policy. Rask studies the influence of rankings and cost on college choice among high-ability students. His survey of students who were admitted to Colgate showed that offers of academic merit aid would have made little difference in the decision of "full pay" students to attend, nor would they have made a difference on whether or not aided students enrolled. Should Colgate begin to offer academic merit aid, he said, the university would likely spend more money on students who would have come anyway.
Colgate did begin offering a limited number of athletic scholarships two years ago to compete more successfully for student-athletes also being recruited by Ivy League schools ("A competitive solution," January 2004). That move thus far has increased the academic quality of the overall student body while landing a number of highly competitive athletes.
"I've been through a lot since I've been here," said Daniel Green '06, citing the strong support network he found at Colgate after his mother passed away. Increased financial aid allowed him to stay, "and my teammates, coaches, fellow students, dean, and professors have been instrumental in seeing that I stay on the path to success."
Changing lives through access
Senior Diana Reding, from Attica, N.Y., assumed that a state school would be a financial backup if she didn't receive aid from the private schools she applied to. Reding, whose parents adopted her and another sister from Korea, is the youngest of six children. Her father, a woodworker and former dairy farmer, and her mother, a public school reading specialist, were enthusiastic about her applying to Colgate because her sister Darla is a graduate (1992), but the family knew that financial aid would be crucial to her ability to attend. As it turned out, Colgate provided her with the best package — in fact, Reding was surprised to learn that her family would have had to pay more had she gone to SUNY, so the decision was easy.
An English major who joined the Newman Community and holds a campus work-study job, Reding said a highlight of her Colgate experience was volunteering for a therapeutic riding program for disabled children in nearby Norwich. She is considering among the Peace Corps, law school, and becoming a therapeutic riding instructor after graduation, and said that having access to a Colgate education "has focused my ambition, but also has given me a different idea of the broad opportunities I have. At home, when the paper gives the area high school standings, the kids at the top of their class are pretty much staying in the area. I think part of it is the misconception that they're not going to be able to afford a private college. It's hard for me to see that. It would be nice to see those kids have the same opportunities as me."
For John Drymon, financial aid was the defining factor in his choosing Colgate. The son (with two younger siblings) of a college textbook salesman and an elementary school librarian in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Drymon had applied to several highly competitive northeastern universities.
"I was looking for a place that was teaching-centered and had a faculty that was approachable and interested in students. I also didn't want to come out of college wrapped in student loan debt," said the senior. Drymon was named an Alumni Memorial Scholar, the designation offered to the 200 strongest candidates admitted to each class. Applicants designated AMS who demonstrate financial need receive all grant funds to meet their need (no loans or work-study components).
At Colgate, Drymon has double majored in philosophy and religion, has directed Habitat for Humanity all four years, and has done interfaith education work for campus chaplaincy groups. He plans to pursue ordination in the Episcopal Church.
Drymon cites the relationships he established with students and professors as one of the most meaningful parts of his experience. "They're relationships that go beyond merely social — they're based on learning in the community," he said. "I've found a lot of common intellectual and ideological ground both with students and professors. I discovered a lifelong process of figuring out who you are, how to do something with your life that's congruent with your self-image. A call to the legal profession, the medical profession, to be a ditch-digger — those are equally valid vocations. That's something I didn't understand before coming to Colgate."
Senior Daniel Green grew up with his mother, an apparel import manager, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended Poly Prep Country Day School. "Colgate was the only college I really wanted to go to," said Green, a basketball recruit at a number of colleges. "Coming from the city, I wanted a change, and I liked the small community atmosphere, but my family couldn't afford to pay for four years of college. Financial aid was definitely going to be a factor in my decision." When his acceptance to Colgate came with the best financial aid package, there was no question that he would enroll.
A sociology and education double major, Green has played guard on the basketball team for four years, and has done everything from joining the Brothers and the African American Student Alliance to co-hosting a radio show on WRCU to serving on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Over the summer, he combined his education and sociology interests as an intern at the Freedom School program in New York City.
But Green has gone through a tough time as a college student.
At the end of this first semester, his world was turned upside down when his mom passed away. His older sister, a teacher, encouraged him to keep going with college. Green declared himself financially independent, and Colgate was able to re-work his aid package to provide additional assistance.
That is an important Colgate principle, said Ross. "If someone comes to Colgate and then develops a need later on, or if their need increases, we will meet that need."
Green mentioned the help he has received from Tom Wise, associate director of financial aid. "Every year I sit down with him. He walks me through everything and is extremely helpful," Green said.
"So much of what we do is electronic today, but we really pride ourselves on giving personal attention when students do come in to see us," said Wise. "That's a benefit of Colgate's small size."
Now a senior, Green is considering law school among other choices, and said the opportunities he's had — to meet different people from various backgrounds, for example — "means a lot. I've been through a lot since I've been here, and my teammates, coaches, fellow students, dean, and professors have been instrumental in seeing that I stay on the path to success. The support network here is just wonderful."
Sophomore Whitney Scott is one of the first recipients of an athletic scholarship at Colgate. The high school softball star from Beaverton, Ore., was recruited by several highly competitive schools, including Brown University. Her father owns a small construction company, where her mother also works. Scott was looking for both an academically rigorous program as well as the opportunity to play competitive softball. When Colgate offered her acceptance as an Alumni Memorial Scholar as well as the athletic scholarship, she chose Colgate over Brown.
In addition to truly enjoying her softball experience, Scott joined her residence's community council. She is considering conducting a research project that would compare and contrast Native American culture with American culture in general. Scott has appreciated the small community atmosphere she found at Colgate.
"I'm one of the first in my family to come to a prestigious college, and I have so many plans for the future," she said. "I've tried to take advantage of everything that I can here. Colgate has been very good to me."
"The financial aid program is a very high priority for Colgate. Until it's endowed it's fragile," said President Rebecca Chopp. "We want to make sure the students of tomorrow have the same opportunity to attend Colgate as did past and current students."
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