Your in, your out. Sorry our college ran out of money…

June 10, 2009

College in Need Closes a Door to Needy Students

By JONATHAN D. GLATER June 10, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. — The admissions team at Reed College, known for its free-spirited students, learned in March that the prospective freshman class it had so carefully composed after weeks of reviewing essays, scores and recommendations was unworkable.

Money was the problem. Too many of the students needed financial aid, and the college did not have enough. So the director of financial aid gave the team another task: drop more than 100 needy students before sending out acceptances, and substitute those who could pay full freight.

The whole idea of excluding a student simply because of money clashed with the college’s ideals, Leslie Limper, the aid director, acknowledged. “None of us are very happy,” she said, adding that Reed did not strike anyone from its list last year and that never before had it needed to weed out so many worthy students. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m still doing this.”

That decision was one of several agonizing ones for this small private college, celebrated for its combination of academic rigor and a laid-back approach to education that once attracted Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, to study on its leafy campus minutes from downtown.

With their endowments ravaged by the financial markets and more students clamoring for assistance, private colleges like Reed are making numerous changes this year in staff, students, tuition and classes that they hope will tide them over without harming their reputations or their educational goals.

Reed and others have admitted more students to bolster revenue with larger classes. Many are cutting costs by freezing or reducing salaries, suspending hiring and postponing building maintenance and construction. And the cost of attendance is rising; in Reed’s case, by 3.8 percent, to nearly $50,000 a year for its 1,300 students. (that’s an amazing $65,000,000.00 Million Dollars!)

But Reed has put off drastic measures like spending more of its endowment, closing some departments or selling some real estate near campus. Instead, college officials are counting on the economy to turn around quickly, as became apparent when they allowed a New York Times reporter to sit in on budget discussions this spring.

So for now, the changes are modest and nearly invisible to students. The impact is mostly in the composition of the student body over the next four years.

Reed has for now cast aside its hopes of accepting students based purely on merit, without regard to wealth, and still meeting their financial need. Only the nation’s richest colleges do that. What’s more, when Reed turned to its waiting list this year, it tapped only students who could pay their way.

This year, the financial aid office put together its own, separate wait list for students whose circumstances had changed or whose financial requests were incomplete. Though Reed had pruned its admissions list for financial reasons before, it always found a way to help the few students with unexpected setbacks. This year, dozens of requests came in. Only a few got extra.

Hannah C. Moser, 17, needed financial help; her father is a paramedic, her mother is ill and her parents are divorcing. Thrilled with the small classes and quirky students, she applied to Reed last fall and was ecstatic when she learned she was admitted — through an informal announcement that came in haikus by e-mail.

But she said she qualified for only $14,000 in aid, far less than any other college offered. She later discovered that she had not sent in a required form. She was placed on the aid wait list, to no avail. This fall, she will enroll at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., not too far from her hometown, Sedro-Woolley, Wash.

“I’ve actually struggled pretty bad with not being able to go to Reed, just because it was my reach school and everything about it was perfect and I impossibly got in,” said Ms. Moser, an aspiring writer. “And then I couldn’t go.”

The board members have approved increases in tuition and fees that bring the total cost of a year at Reed to $49,950. The college will have nearly 400 new first-year and transfer students in the fall, up from 355 last year.

Reed has increased its financial aid budget by 7.8 percent. It aims to use part of the $200 million it hopes to raise in a capital campaign, announced this spring, for financial aid in future years.

The college has cut 5 percent of its spending except on personnel. It has avoided layoffs — unlike some other institutions — though it is not filling vacancies.

Like many colleges, Reed is betting on a quick recovery of the economy and the financial markets to fuel endowment growth of 10 percent annually — including investment returns and gifts — beginning next year.

Asked by a board member what would happen if those assumptions did not pan out, the college’s treasurer, Edwin O. McFarlane, was blunt: “We’ll have to revisit the whole ballgame.”

J.D.’s Comments: Will Obama save us? Or do we need to just grab the bull by the horns and take care of ourselves? I ask all my clients what is the easiest way to get free money for college? Get good grades and test great on the standardized tests (SAT/ACT)! The next order of business is to research (or hire a professional to research) the HGP the historical giving pattern of the college and discover if the college is typically generous or not AND does the college have money to give out? From this important step then and only then can we learn what the true cost of attendance is for your particular family and your child so that we can develop a college financial plan to cover these costs.

Original article appears in NY Times here

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