The Swarthmore Financial Justice petition calling upon the college to open an honest and accessible dialogue about its financial aid policies is a thoughtful document that all members of the Swarthmore community should support. It is a document that exemplifies Swarthmore’s Quaker traditions, calling for greater equality, greater integrity, and more simplicity in the financial aid process.
Although we appreciate the Financial Aid Office’s preliminary response to the petition made today, we hope it will only be a starting point for a larger dialogue. The general explanations provided by Director of Financial Aid Laura Talbot and her office confuse students whose experiences aren’t average.
Families making $80,000 annually who feel their aid package is unfair don’t just want to know that the “average” family with their income pays $6,585. Such a family would rightfully want to know why they pay more than that.
Individual students should have a more comprehensive idea of how their packages are being calculated, and when their packages change, the rationale behind the change should be explained to the student. No student should feel that their package is being pulled out of a black box.
We are also concerned that the reality of Swarthmore’s financial aid policy does not match the school’s rhetoric about meeting “100 percent of a student’s demonstrated need.” When a number of students have felt and are feeling pressure to either take a semester off or to leave the College entirely, Swarthmore’s definition of “need” clearly does not match the “need” perceived by students and their families.
In light of this situation, it is unclear if Swarthmore should to continue using rhetoric claiming to meet all “demonstrated need,” as it can lull students and families into a false sense of security before a package is handed down which the family feels it cannot pay, meaning that the student simply can’t continue their education here at Swarthmore.
The school’s number one priority should be to make sure that students who have already become enmeshed in the Swarthmore community can continue their education here. We hope that ongoing discussions with the College administration can facilitate this goal.