Although Middlebury College has yet to set targets for its goal to increase the number of students receiving financial aid, the incoming first-year class will have more students on financial aid than this year’s first-year class. This unexpected increase is due to Middlebury’s need blind admissions policy, and tuition has partially risen to cover the increased financial aid budget.
“That’s not strategic, that’s just because of our policy. We don’t get to decide who sends in their deposit,” said David Provost, the college treasurer. “The interesting part about financial aid is, because we’re need blind, a lot of it’s out of our control.”
Middlebury currently lags behind its peers in the percentage of students on financial aid. With 44 percent of students on financial aid, Middlebury ranks seventh out of the eleven colleges in the NESCAC, according to an analysis of common data sets at each school.
The college also garnered negative attention last January for a New York Times article which showed that more students at Middlebury come from the top one percent of the income bracket (23 percent of students) than the bottom 60 percent (14 percent of students). Across all U.S. colleges and universities, Middlebury ranked ninth.
Another New York Times article cited in last week’s issue of The Campus revealed that Middlebury recruits from rich, white high schools (on average, high school locations had a median family income of $101,000 and were 57 percent white). According to this article, the college ranked near the middle of peer institutions.
Although President Laurie L. Patton has announced her aim to increase both the percentage of students on financial aid and the amount of financial aid awarded, the college has not yet established target numbers. This is largely due to the college’s current financial position, which puts pressure on tuition, rather than the endowment, to cover ever-increasing costs including financial aid, according to Provost.
“I’m trying to fix two problems right now,” said Provost, who began as treasurer last January.
“One is that we have an operating deficit, which we’re taking down. The second problem was, when I arrived, we had been taking 6.6 percent out of our endowment a year. Of our peer institutions, the average is 4.7.”
Provost aims to eliminate the deficit by 2021 and to decrease endowment withdrawal to five percent.
“In the last few years — why tuition has gone up — it’s been an effort to help with this deficit and the withdraw,” Provost said.
“I believe longer term, that will put us in a better financial position, that will take pressure off tuition.”
Currently, 75 percent of the $53 million financial aid budget is covered by tuition, and 25 percent is covered by the endowment. Provost aims to increase the percentage covered by the endowment.
“If that was 35, 40 percent because we had a bigger endowment, more students are going to have accessibility, or it’s going to take pressure off of tuition increases,” Provost said.
To allow the endowment to grow, the college must focus on withdrawing less money from it now. The college will most likely announce a plan to increase the number of students on financial aid within the next year or two.
“We’ve been having a series of conversations at leadership as well as with the board…of what targets should be,” Provost said.
Once the college creates specific goals (like a target percentage of students on financial aid) it can start a campaign to raise money. Last week, Dartmouth launched a $3 billion campaign that includes allocations for financial aid, and peer institutions initiate similar campaigns frequently. These multi-million dollar campaigns call on alumni to donate.
“We are in the early planning stages,” Provost said.
The campaign will align with a strategy decided upon by Envisioning Middlebury, Provost said. Introduced in April 2016, Envisioning Middlebury is President Patton’s framework which aims to involve students, faculty and staff in conversation about the College’s future. It was responsible for the new mission statement. In February, with the endorsement of the Board of Trustees, Envisioning Middlebury published three “transformative goals” for the college.
The eventual campaign will call on donors for support for more than just financial aid, but financial aid will play an important role.
“The pieces that get generated for the next campaign will be built on that foundation,” Provost said.
Perhaps this campaign will allow Middlebury to address the alarming lack of economic diversity within the student body.
Provost responded to a question about selling the idea of financial aid and accessibility to donors.
“I’m in higher education for the reason of what education represents. Neither one of my parents went to college, they put five sons through college, all five of us are wildly successful in our professional lives because of education,” Provost said.
“We as a society and a country know the power of education, so the ability to give financial aid to those who otherwise wouldn’t have the means to get a Middlebury education is extremely powerful, not as an individual, as a society,” Provost said.
“Laurie’s passionate about that.”