Students come to Amherst to learn with and from the best talents of their generation. The students the College admits to that exchange provide the clearest statement possible of the value we place on diversity of background, viewpoint, and voice. We must live up to the standard of intellectual and ethical reach we hope to instill in our students. Although challenges remain, over the past several decades Amherst’s student body has been diversified to the point that half of our students are women and a third or more are students of color. The benefits of this inclusion are clear; it would be unthinkable to turn back the clock.
Time has stood still in one respect, however. While the College has, without fanfare, led higher education in developing and maintaining need-blind admission and full-need financial aid, the socio-economic profile of the student body remains much the same today as it was twenty-five years ago. Though we compare favorably with our peer institutions, we still enroll less than a quarter of our students from below the top quintile of family income. As a result students from households earning up to the US median family income find themselves part of a small economic minority at the College.
Amherst’s current socioeconomic imbalance undermines our historic mission and puts artificial constraints on the learning community that we form here. Consistent with the College's charter to educate bright, indigent young men, Amherst should aspire to strengthen our leadership position among selective private colleges and universities in admitting talented low-income students (e.g., those eligible for Pell grants).Recent initiatives by the Office of Admission suggest that this portion of the applicant pool can be expanded while maintaining the College’s high academic standards, a finding that we hope will be validated by further cycles of admission.
1. We recommend that talented students from less affluent backgrounds be more vigorously recruited and that the Trustees seek funds to meet the additional aid burden.
We also urge the Trustees to explore alternative models of pricing and financing an Amherst education. We are concerned that the present model has placed us in an untenable position, where the “sticker shock” of our costs scares away potential applicants unfamiliar with our “full need” aid formula while the substantial subsidies received even by “full payers” go unrecognized.
We recognize that students and their families already borrow to cover their parental contribution and that further borrowing exacerbates the disparity between wealthier students, who graduate free and clear of financial obligations, and less well-off students, many of whom graduate with debts that can limit their choices after graduation. We do not see the justice of that outcome, even as we appreciate that students and families should expect to help pay for college education.
2. We recommend that the Trustees consider significant reductions in the loan burden of all our students, as has been done for our highest-need students, in particular to avoid the limit that loans may impose on future career aspirations.
A second underused pool of first-rate talent also merits attention. Some of Amherst’s most distinguished students have been international students, who currently constitute some 6 percent of the student body. In the present era of globalization, they bring to the campus an indispensable range of perspectives and experience.
3. We recommend that the proportion of non-US students admitted be increased from about 6 to about 8 percent.
International students are currently not eligible for need-blind admission, though many of them receive financial aid. We see the fiscal rationale, but not the justice of excluding international students from need-blind policies and are concerned that this exclusion implies or teaches a double standard at a point when Amherst is striving to inculcate global cohesion.The experience of peer institutions is that need-blind admission can markedly increase the quality of the applicant pool. Amherst’s pool of talented international students is already strong; however, to ensure that the College has the broadest range of the most talented international students from which to choose, we urge that there be more active and targeted recruitment of such students from a wider range of countries, particularly those in Africa and Latin America.
4. We recommend that admission for non-US students be made need-blind.
Broader inclusion of international students and less affluent students inevitably puts pressure on the limited number of places in entering classes. We emphasize that this further diversity should not come at the expense of any of our valued constituencies, array of interests, or racial, ethnic, or cultural diversity. A modest increase in the size of the student body can comfortably be accommodated by existing facilities and by the expansion of the faculty recommended in this report.
5. We recommend that entering classes be increased by between 15 and 25 students.
We recognize that, as in the past, further diversification of our student body brings with it additional responsibilities for ensuring that the needs of all our students are met.Other recommendations of this report and ongoing programs address this challenge. We also note the continuing and possibly heightened need for fostering greater community cohesion among students. The re-establishment of the first-year quad is an important step in this direction, though not, by itself, sufficient. We encourage the First-Year Seminar Committee to consider how that program could further encourage commonality through intellectual engagement. We also encourage the College Council to remain open to other proposals for community building, including the possibility of common campus work experiences for all students. Students should be engaged in such planning. We also note the important role athletics can play in building such commonality.