In response to the administration’s identification of financial aid as a potential area for budget reductions to mitigate the University’s $5 million budget deficit for next year, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) passed a resolution on Sunday night in opposition to any reduction or moderation of the financial aid budget.
The administration recently announced a potential $3.7 million reduction to the overall financial aid budget, which would take the form of a reduction in growth from 6.8 percent to 6.3 percent. In addition, the administration has ended need-blind admissions for transfer students, according to Economics Department Chair Gilbert Skillman, Faculty Representative to the Trustee’s Finance Committee,
“Admission of transfer students is not need-blind. This was decided by the administration as a short-run response to the budget crunch. It is not intended to be permanent,” Skillman said. “Need blind admission is something that rich colleges do,” Skillman said. “We’re not rich. That creates a long-term budget problem.”
Under need-blind regulations, which are set by the Federal government and a consortium of 500 accredited universities, the Office of Admission does not consider students’ financial status when reviewing applications. Once a student is accepted, the University pledges to meet the full financial need of the student, as determined by the Office of Financial Aid, through a combination of grants, work-study, and loans. With such a policy, however, the University is required to allocate a significant portion of its annual budget to financial aid, which has become a greater challenge in the wake of its declining endowment.
“Transfer aid was limited this past year, and there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in transfer aid still, and I expect it will be transfer aid in the future,” President Roth told The Argus. “It won’t be unlimited. If we didn’t have transfer financial aid we wouldn’t have transfer students. We also can’t afford to spend more than we have.”
Skillman noted that many Administrators view meeting students’ full demonstrated financial need as one of the University’s core commitments.
“[Financial aid based on need-blind admissions] is one of the defining characteristics of the place and that’s been recognized in every discussion we’ve had,” he said.
The decision to stop need-blind admissions for transfers was not brought up for discussion with the student body, prompting the WSA to take a firm stance on all future changes to financial aid.
“I disagree with this decision [to end need-blind admissions for transfers] and regret students weren’t consulted before it was made,” said WSA President Michael Pernick in an e-mail to the student body. “Moving forward, we intend to discuss trade-offs that will allow us to preserve our core values—of which I believe maintaining and enhancing access to Wesleyan is one—and prioritize budget cuts or revenue enhancements that don’t undermine those core values.”
WSA members hope that the resolution will dissuade the Administration from reducing the overall financial aid budget.
“An immediate student response is necessary when Financial Aid is placed on a list of potential budget cuts,” said WSA Representative Micah Feiring ’11, who co-wrote the resolution. “By limiting access to a Wesleyan education, a cut to financial aid would affect classes, diversity, and distort the fundamental Wesleyan principals.”
The preliminary budget for the 2010-2011 academic year will not be proposed to the Board of Trustees until November, revised in February, and then finally approved by the Board in May. Because the budget process is in such early stages, the administration maintains that many of the 13 areas identified for potential budgetary reductions will likely remain intact.
“The list wasn’t meant to be totally comprehensive,” said Associate Vice President for Finance Nathan Peters. “It was intended to get the conversation started and to pinpoint the big areas where we do spend a lot of money.”
Yet, the list will provide a solid starting point for the Budget Priorities Task Force—a WSA committee created to examine each of the proposed budgetary reductions and recommend a solution that will be the least detrimental to the student body.
Administrators emphasized that the budget crisis will not be solved this year. Nevertheless, the WSA continues to defend the University’s commitment to meeting the demonstrated financial need of its students.
“I welcome any [student] input on how the WSA can fight to preserve Financial Aid,” Feiring said. “It is a resource that Wesleyan students literally cannot afford to lose.”