January 26, 2010
Dear Faculty, Students and Staff Colleagues:
I write to you today, as I have over the past 18 months, to offer updates on some of the economic issues that the College has been addressing; specifically to keep you apprised of the Board’s discussions and decisions at its January meeting.
First, I want to express again my intense gratitude to all members of the Amherst community for the shared sacrifices everyone has made to help restore stability to the College’s financial situation. Adjustments across the campus have enabled us to meet the budgetary reductions agreed upon with the Advisory Budget Committee (ABC) while maintaining Amherst's core commitment to providing the best liberal arts education and access to that education. We have reduced projected budget expenditures while preserving the financial aid policies that help bring us the most talented and most diverse group of students, protecting our staff from layoffs, and continuing to support and build our faculty with an extraordinary number of new appointments this year. I remain grateful to the community as a whole for your participation in the inclusive process which has brought us to this outcome we feared would not be possible even a short time ago.
At its winter meeting, the trustees reviewed the excellent Faculty Committee on Admission and Financial Aid (FCAFA) report on how to meet the ABC goal of further containing the financial aid budget. In addition, the Board took into account discussions at the December 15th faculty meeting and suggestions during FCAFA's recent public meeting with students. The trustees were gratified by the strong support for both the community college transfer program and international student recruitment, and share that enthusiasm and pride in these programs and students. The Board reaffirmed its support for both programs.
The trustees support those programs at the original target enrollments that had been affirmed by the faculty–in particular the target of 25 community college students on campus as originally approved by FCAFA, and for 8 percent international students as proposed by the Committee on Academic Priorities (CAP) and endorsed by the faculty at large. Last year both programs yielded slightly higher numbers, and we are all fortunate to have those students in our community. By maintaining the original targets set for those programs, together with the small increase in summer savings expectations for students on aid, the Board recognized that the ABC goal for reductions of financial aid would be met. As a matter of budget-setting, the Board voted to reaffirm those original targets. Of course admissions yield is never fully predictable, and if the College exceeds those targets because of the high quality of students in those categories, we will rely on the financial aid reserve fund for its intended use to cover the difference.
The trustees also discussed at length and acknowledged those arguments underlying the faculty’s support, as voiced at its December 15th meeting, for the re-institution of student financial aid loans when expedient. The Board believes there is preliminary evidence that the elimination of loans has had the intended effect of reducing the College's under-representation among qualified students from the middle three income quintiles, and that since the elimination of loans was instituted, the number of top academic enrolled students has increased. The no-loan policy has also reduced an excessive financial burden on middle class student families. In light of these considerations, the trustees concluded that it was unnecessary to re-institute student loans to achieve the ABC budget targets. At the same time, the Board agrees with the faculty and others that if the situation or the competitive environment were to change then we would collectively consider the necessary means to safeguard Amherst’s core qualities. If, for example, aid programs for our most financially needy students were threatened or the College became unable to continue to support and invest in our faculty and staff, then we would reconsider the student loan policy, together with other options.
Again, thank you all for your engagement and patience that has brought us to this improved stability of our core values and strengths.