At the senior class reception on Thursday, Feb. 27, University Relations announced the creation of the “Raise the Cap Fund” for financial aid donations. The fund will allow donors to contribute directly to raising the cap on the amount of funding that the University allocates to financial aid each year. After the University has reached its goal in donations for the Annual Fund, donors will be able to begin contributing to the fund.
Vice President of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Andrew Trexler ’14 explained the restrictions that existed prior to the fund’s creation.
“[Before the fund], if you were to donate to financial aid [or] the endowment for financial aid it wouldn’t actually do anything to increase the amount of financial aid given out next year or any year, because we have a capped financial aid budget and a capped discount rate,” Trexler said.
Trexler worked with other students to bring the issue to the attention of the administration and negotiate the creation of the fund.
“The administration’s argument was that we don’t have the money we need to give out what we’ve already committed, and therefore donations to financial aid need to be budget-relieving rather than budget-incremental,” Trexler said. “But it was my
feeling and the feeling of many others that restricting that wasn’t entirely fair; you need to be able to do both things simultaneously.”
The creation of the fund was motivated in part by the actions of Joshua Krugman, Danny Blinderman, and Benny Docter, all seniors, in early December 2013. The three authored a petition to the University administration calling for improved donor ability to allocate funds directly to increasing financial aid.
“[The petition] brought together student signatories from all corners of student ‘civil society’ (student government, SWAG and Red and Black [Callers], student activist organizations, Greek life, and others) in a unified voice,” Krugman wrote in an email to The Argus. “This unity and sense of mutual empowerment among students behind this proposal was very impressive to see.”
Docter described his and his co-authors’ motivation behind the letter to the administration.
“For a lot of people, the structure as it stands is not satisfactory,” Docter said. “If you look at the statistics for the [types of people] Wesleyan serves most directly, that is overwhelmingly people with privilege. So saying that you’re supporting Wesleyan as it exists right now is a politically problematic way of going about things and it is ultimately not what the people who authored the letter are comfortable with.”
In the future, the University will require that the needs for the Annual Fund are met before it allows donors to contribute specifically to raising the financial aid cap.
“[The creators of the fund are] basically saying, ‘We need to get our full, basic amount that we need to fundraise, and after that, we can start thinking about moving in a socially just fashion,’” Docter said. “[The fund will be open to donations] only at the point in the fiscal year when the amount for the basic annual fund has been met.”
Vice President for University Relations Barbara-Jan Wilson noted that the administration was highly motivated by students, including Trexler, Krugman, Blinderman, and Docter.
“Andrew Trexler met with me and President Roth to discuss ways to increase the dollars we were putting to financial aid and motivate seniors and others to give generously to financial aid,” Wilson wrote in an email to The Argus. “Chuck [Fedolfi], our Director of Annual Giving, then met with the WSA to discuss the fund and to brainstorm a name. The students themselves suggested the Raise the Cap Fund—which says it all!”
Blinderman lauded the administration’s receptiveness to the petition and to students’ call for a change in policy.
“The fact that student activism resulted in a positive policy outcome is proof that student engagement with the University yields real results, and is worthwhile to pursue,” Blinderman wrote in an email to The Argus. “The seriousness with which the University engaged with student concerns is empowering, and can serve as a reminder that when students mobilize, they can effect positive change on this campus, and can serve as equal partners with the administration in constructing a more just community.”
Wilson described the strides the University has made in increasing donations since the creation of the “This is Why” campaign.
“The [This is Why] Campaign is at $331 million toward our goal of $400 million,” Wilson wrote. “$168 of the $331 million is pledged to current and endowed financial aid.”
Wilson described her hopes for the fund and for the University’s continued efforts to increase donations.
“I think this will motivate people to make gifts to Wesleyan—and that is always a good thing,” Wilson wrote. “Our campaign is about Financial Aid, so this fund helps to put it front and center[…]. We will always work with donors to be creative around funding University priorities, especially financial aid.”
University President Michael Roth echoed Wilson’s view of the fund.
“I’m delighted with the initiative and support anything that will allow us to raise more money for financial aid,” Roth wrote in an email to The Argus.
Blinderman depicted the creation of the fund as a positive step toward the unification of University and student goals.
“It is my hope that the University will continue to see students as serious partners in crafting University policy, and [that it] understands this case as an example of the positive outcome that can result when students are empowered and have real input into the creation of University policy,” Blinderman said.