June 10, 2009
A Small College Struggles With Economics
By JONATHAN D. GLATER
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 school 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.”
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.
But Reed has put off drastic measures like spending more of its endowment, closing some departments or selling some real estate near campus.
Reed has cast aside its hopes of soon accepting students based purely on merit, without regard to wealth. What’s more, when it 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 had always found a way to help those few students with unexpected setbacks. This year, dozens of requests came in. Only a few got any more help.
Some very stellar students will be found scattered in lesser-known colleges next year. Not that they previously haven't for various reasons, but the trickle will become a torrent.