The Vassar College Board of Trustees has announced another significant step toward assuring access to a Vassar education for students of diverse economic backgrounds, by approving the elimination of loans from the financial aid packages of students with calculated family incomes of up to $60,000. The college will replace those loans with additional Vassar scholarship grants, adding approximately $1 million a year to the college's already strong financial aid commitment. The policy will take effect in the fall of 2008 and will apply to students in all four classes, including current students.
"We believe strongly that financial circumstances should not be a barrier for a qualified student who wants to come to Vassar," said Catharine Bond Hill, president of the college and a nationally known economist specializing in higher education, specifically issues of affordability. "For Vassar, increasing access is a priority, and our Board has strengthened the resources necessary to live up to that commitment. Our financial aid is an investment in the rich diversity of our students, which is central to our mission."
Vassar is one of only a half dozen colleges with endowments of less than $1 billion to take the step of replacing loans in financial aid awards. Among its peer colleges and universities, including many of the schools that also have announced loan replacement policies, Vassar annually is a leader in the percentage of its students who receive financial aid, with approximately 55% of its students currently receiving aid. All Vassar financial aid is based on need.
The Board's action follows its decision last spring to return to a need-blind admissions policy, with admissions decisions being made without regard to a student's ability to pay. The need-blind policy and the elimination of loans apply to all students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The college has historically met 100% of the demonstrated financial need of all of its admitted students, including international students, for all four years and will continue to do so.
"With a number of the very wealthiest colleges and universities reducing tuition or loans for students, the Board believes it is imperative to reaffirm that Vassar, one of the most selective liberal arts colleges in the country, is also an institution committed to affordability," said William Plapinger, chair of the Board of Trustees and a member of the Vassar class of 1974. Plapinger is a partner of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and the coordinator of its European offices.
He continued, "Almost all of our trustees are Vassar graduates and many were the recipients of financial aid. We know firsthand the benefit of having doors opened that might have otherwise seemed closed, and we believe family income shouldn't be an impediment to any qualified student."
In the current (2007-08) academic year, the average total financial aid award per student across all four classes is $32,500. The average loan component for students with family incomes of up to $60,000 is $2,950, bringing the average four-year loan burden for those students to $11,800. The new policy eliminates that loan amount and replaces it with scholarship funds. Annually, tuition and fees cover only slightly more than half of the costs of a Vassar education, with the other half coming largely from the college's endowment and fundraising. The Vassar endowment was valued at approximately $890 million as of December 31, 2007.
The college expects to spend $34.5 million in Vassar scholarship grant funds for students for the 2008-09 academic year, more than a 50% increase over the amount spent for financial aid five years ago and more than double the amount spent a decade ago. This current commitment to financial aid represents more than 23% of the college's annual operating expenses.