Move Expected To Aid Middle-Income Families

July 19, 2007
Stacey Schmeidel
Director of Public Affairs

AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College’s trustees have voted to replace all loans with scholarships in its financial aid packages beginning in the 2008-09 academic year. In 1999, Amherst became the first college in the nation to eliminate loans for low-income students. This new policy will eliminate loans for all Amherst students.

Once implemented, the new policy will affect not only incoming students in the Class of 2012, but also current Amherst students.

“Eight years ago, Amherst demonstrated its commitment to being a leader in making education more accessible to low-income students by eliminating loans for students from families with incomes of less than $40,000 a year,” said Amherst College President Anthony W. Marx. “This new initiative significantly broadens that commitment by eliminating barriers for middle-income families who want to ensure that their children receive an excellent education. Highly selective colleges like Amherst must be open and accessible to all of the most talented students,” Marx added. “This new initiative represents a significant step, enabling us to select most broadly for future leaders while ensuring mobility based on talent.”

More than half of Amherst’s students receive some sort of financial aid from the college. In the 2006-07 year, nearly one third of Amherst’s students received financial aid packages that included loans.

Amherst College is need-blind. Every student admitted to the college receives financial aid that meets the student’s full financial need. Currently, middle-income students take on federal and college loans (like Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans and Amherst College Student Loans) as part of financial aid packages that also include scholarships, grants and job opportunities. Beginning in the 2008-09 academic year, the loan component of this financial aid package will be replaced with scholarships; no Amherst student will be required to take out loans in order to come to Amherst.

The new program substituting scholarships for loans builds on Amherst’s longstanding leadership around financial aid. Amherst was one of the first colleges in the country to adopt a need-blind admission policy; an applicant’s financial need is not considered as part of the application process, and every admitted student receives financial aid that meets the student’s demonstrated need. The college is not only widely considered to be one of the nation’s very best liberal arts colleges, but it is also highly regarded as one of the “best values” in the U.S.

Tom Parker, Amherst’s dean of admission and financial aid noted, “Too often, students who graduate from college with debt feel compelled to make career choices based in part on their need to pay off their student loans. Graduates from low- and middle-income families should have the same array of career options as graduates from upper-income families. They should be able to make career and life choices free of the specter of debt. This new program will allow our students to make such choices.”

“This is a significant new financial commitment for Amherst,” noted Jide Zeitlin ’85, chair of the college’s Board of Trustees. “But, for almost two centuries, Amherst’s alumni, parents and friends have consistently demonstrated a remarkable commitment to supporting Amherst when it has taken steps to broaden access to the college by the most talented students from across the nation and the world. We believe that this new program designed to eliminate barriers for middle-income families will inspire new levels of commitment from those who know Amherst. We hope, too, that our actions will encourage other institutions to take similar steps to open their doors to talented young people, regardless of circumstance.”

Founded in 1821 for “the education of indigent young men of piety and talents,” Amherst College is now widely regarded as one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the nation, enrolling a diverse group of approximately 1,600 young men and women. Well known for its academic excellence, Amherst is also considered among the very best schools in the country in terms of accessibility: The college’s financial aid packages are consistently among the most generous in the U.S., and among its peer universities and colleges Amherst has the greatest economic diversity.

Diversity, in its broadest sense, is fundamental to Amherst’s mission. The college enrolls students from every state and more than 40 countries, and for the past several years nearly 40 percent of Amherst’s students have been students of color. Amherst offers the B.A. degree in 33 majors.