October 20, 2021
To the Amherst College Community:
Over the past 200 years, Amherst alumni have created a multigenerational community by treating each new class of students and recent graduates as “kin and heirs,” to paraphrase novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson. Because of their generosity and the Amherst family they have created, the College has been able to provide an extraordinary education to students and to extend educational opportunity to young people from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds.
I write today to share the news that, effective with the 2022-23 academic year, we will extend our already strong financial aid commitments and simplify the program so that prospective students and their families can easily understand what an Amherst education actually costs for particular income groups. The increase in our expenditures on financial aid to $71 million will benefit current, as well as entering students.
At the same time, we will end the legacy admission preference. It is time to end this historic practice of giving a preference on the basis of heredity. Making this change will help us work against the perception that “having a connection” is the best or the only way to get into elite colleges. It will also ensure that the children of alumni parents know they were admitted on the basis of their talent and achievements. They are often among the most qualified and promising applicants.
The leadership of the College, the Faculty Committee on Admission and Financial Aid, and our board of trustees have agreed that we must continually reevaluate long-held practices if we are to be the College we want to be─the created community that stands for opportunity and academic excellence. We want students who are considering Amherst to see that: 1) Amherst can be affordable for them; 2) their financial aid will not make loans a part of their aid package, allowing them to graduate without enormous debt; 3) they will have funding to help with necessities after they arrive; and 4) they need not have family connections to get in.
Recognizing that the complexity of financial aid formulas and processes often confuses and overwhelms students and their families, the College’s enhanced financial aid program is transparent, easy to understand, and even more comprehensive. Our increased investment in financial aid will expand the number of students who can afford a debt-free Amherst education and save low- and middle-income families thousands of dollars every year. We also are expanding a number of initiatives to assure students can take full advantage of their educational experience without financial pressure.
With this enhancement, students from 80 percent of U.S. households will typically receive a scholarship that covers full tuition at Amherst. Further, students from families earning less than the median U.S. household income will typically receive a scholarship that covers not only full tuition, but also housing and meals. This corresponds to annual household incomes of $141,000 and $67,500, respectively. The average aid package is expected to increase to $63,570. One in six members of the student body will see their grant jump by more than $5,000 when the new policies go into effect next year.
We have also committed to expanding our current access grant programs and formalizing the availability of a Student Emergency Fund; this means we will increase the amount of direct funding we provide to help students manage needs ranging from laptops and winter coats to job search expenses, as well as unexpected needs such as unforeseen medical costs, financial stress around housing, and emergency travel. We will also reduce the work-study expectation to four hours per week from six hours, providing more time for students to enjoy their college experience, study or, if they choose, earn personal income.
There should be no doubt that a world-class undergraduate education is within reach for all income groups and as many academically talented young people as possible at Amherst. We are fortunate to have a stable financial foundation, supported by the generosity of Amherst alumni. This has long allowed us to use a need-blind admission process that provides substantial loan-free scholarship support for most American families.
As we celebrate our Bicentennial year, our goal is to look forward and make the policy changes and investments necessary to provide a great education, create a vibrant campus community, prepare students for lives of purpose and contribution, and continue building a multi-generational community that pays it forward.