Last December, we got together with a coalition of other student leaders from a wide array of different communities and campus organizations to call on the University to change its financial aid donation policy. Among other concerns, we argued that it was unfair and counterproductive for the University not to provide prospective donors with a way to directly increase the amount of money allotted for financial aid above the currently budgeted levels. These calls came in the context of the University’s adoption of a “need-aware” financial aid policy that for the first time allowed the University to include first-year, domestic applicants’ financial status as a criterion in admissions decisions.

We applaud President Roth and his administration for responding positively to our petition by implementing changes to create a stronger, more egalitarian, and ultimately more progressive donation policy. Under the newly announced policy, the University will accept donations to increase financial aid spending after University Relations has met its annual fundraising goal each year, currently set at 10.25 million dollars. When the goal is reached, gifts given to a new “Raise The Cap” fund will go into the endowment to automatically trigger incremental, but permanent, increases in the University’s financial aid budget. We welcome the fact that the administration has heeded the concerns of the student body around donation policy, and we think this policy change is an important step toward making the University a more diverse, inclusive, and socially responsible institution.

Despite this positive change, given the ongoing, serious problems that we face with ensuring equal access, we ask the University community to remain vigilant with respect to issues of inclusion and diversity. Following is another proposal we believe would help to solidify our community’s commitment to these important goals: we propose that the University should simply apply the new restriction that they have placed on budget-increasing financial aid donations to all gifts that seek to alter the institution’s budget priorities. We are suggesting that the University’s acceptance of restricted gifts in all areas of the budget be contingent upon reaching the yearly donation cap.

We maintain it is inequitable and unproductive that donors interested in improving accessibility for disadvantaged students must wait until the financial aid cap is reached in order to do so, while other donors are allowed to fund alternative projects. We believe that donors who explicitly express interest in supporting financial aid spending should at the very least not be on equal footing with donors who have other priorities.

Given our community’s expressed commitment to closing the gap between aptitude and access, we remain concerned that currently the University’s policies privilege the values and agendas of some donors over others. Even under the new policy, the University will refuse restricted donations from donors committed to expanding the financial aid budget for most of the year, while accepting restricted gifts that expand selected sections of the University’s budget, such as for capital projects, departments, or athletic teams.

Our policy proposal would place other donors under the same restrictions now applied to donors seeking to augment the school’s commitment to financial aid. It is our hope that this will provoke a meaningful conversation between donors and the University about institutional priorities. President Roth, and others who negotiate donations with potential donors, will be able to use this new mechanism to negotiate more money for financial aid and hopefully reach the cap sooner. By redirecting money from budget expanding projects to annual funds, our policy will increase the power of donors who wish to increase financial aid spending. We think that this change would be a meaningful amendment to current donation policy, and we invite the President and the Board to continue their creative efforts in this regard by considering the implementation of some mechanism along these lines.

In a September blog post last year, President Roth wrote: “At Wesleyan, we are committed to affordability, sustainability and diversity.” We applaud the recent changes the University has made toward this goal, but we think there are several additional steps we can take to more fully actualize this commitment. Accordingly, we ask the administration to begin treating financial aid with at least as much deference as is accorded to some other donor priorities. Our institution’s policies should reflect our stated values, and we believe this proposal aids in more fully realizing this goal.

Blinderman, Docter, and Krugman are members of the class of 2014. 

Correction: The original version of this article did not credit Josh Krugman as a contributor.

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