Image Credit: Mark McCarty

The bleak and prevailing narrative about college costs is that they’re out of control, and that the best education is reserved for the wealthy elite. If you’re a parent or prospective student, it’s scary. Everywhere you turn, you hear stories of college students graduating with mountains of debt, defaulting on loans and struggling to find well-paying jobs—especially students who had the audacity to pursue an oh-so-impractical liberal arts education.

We know a different story. That’s because we’re the grateful beneficiaries of a long and extraordinary history of support for Williams—and careful stewardship of that support—that manifests in a $2 billion endowment. With that endowment, and the critical annual giving of our alumni and parents, we can level the playing field, bringing to Williams the most talented students from around the world based on who they might become, not what they can afford to pay.

Financial aid is Williams. It’s how we seek out students from every part of society and build an intentional community. It’s how we fulfill our responsibility as an educational institution in the 21st century, and it’s how we remain relevant in that century.

Financial aid allows our students to take advantage of the full Williams experience—campus activities and events, research and study away opportunities, internships and experiential education.

And by keeping student debt low, financial aid helps open a world of possibilities for life after Williams. Students shouldn’t have to choose pay over passion to avoid defaulting on loans.

Most readers of this magazine know well the benefits of a Williams education: the short-term gains and long-term fulfillment, the practical preparation
and expansive perspective, the profound effect it has on individuals and the disproportionate difference it makes in the world.

We know how valuable a Williams education is, but is it a good value? Unequivocally, yes. As Provost Will Dudley ’89 discusses in this issue, thanks to our financial aid program—which today provides about $50 million in support to 1,000 students every year—Williams is an incredible value. Families receiving financial aid this year pay an average of $17,300 against a comprehensive fee of $63,300. And our students graduate with among the lowest debt burdens in the country.

Sustaining and enhancing this powerful engine of access and affordability is the single most important thing we’ll do in the campaign we launched publicly last fall. Just 44 of the country’s 2,500 colleges and universities have the resources to be need-blind in admission decisions and to meet 100 percent of students’ demonstrated financial need. To remain in that position, so that we may enroll the best students from around the world regardless of need and ensure that a Williams education is truly affordable for both low- and middle-income families, we aim to raise $150 million for financial aid in the Teach It Forward campaign. It’s an unprecedented endeavor for us, and it will require the commitment of our entire community. I can think of no better investment in the college and in the future than to fulfill the promise of generations of Williams students.