Quality & Access at Macalester
A Letter from President Rosenberg
To all members of the Macalester community,
Among the chief responsibilities of any Macalester president is to communicate with a large, far-flung and typically passionate community about matters of knotty complexity and compelling importance to the college. About such issues it is especially critical that our channels of communication be open and our level of collective understanding high.
Currently under discussion is a subject that in my view rises to this level of consequence, both because of its significance to the college and because of its susceptibility to being misperceived: that is, the nature and extent of Macalester's commitment to need-based financial aid.
For some this topic may be reduced to the question of whether Macalester should preserve its current version of the policy known, in the parlance of our industry, as "need-blind" admissions. Another and perhaps more revealing way of framing the question is this: through what mechanisms can the college manage to fulfill its longstanding commitment to serving an economically diverse group of students and its equally longstanding commitment to being, in the words of our mission statement, "a preeminent liberal arts college with an educational program known for its high standards for scholarship"? How can we manage to exemplify both access and excellence?
Financial aid and access
Let me begin by defining the depth and breadth of Macalester's present commitment to access. The college has pledged to meet the full financial need of all admitted students. Because we attract a less affluent population than do most of our peers or even the University of Minnesota, more than 70 percent of our current students receive need-based grant aid; our average "discount rate"that is, the percentage of tuition that on average a Macalester student does not payis about 45 percent; financial aid comprises roughly 24 percent of our overall operating budget, more than we spend on the combined salaries for all our faculty members, the combined salaries for all our staff members, the combined cost of running our physical plant, or the combined cost of all academic, athletic and co-curricular programs.
All of these financial aid figures are highertypically much higherthan the figures at virtually all other colleges of similar quality and character, whether or not they are need-blind. At Carleton College, for instance, which is not need-blind, 50 percent of students receive need-based aid; at Williams College, which is need-blind, 40 percent of students receive such aid. The "discount rate" at those colleges in 20022003 was 29 and 24 percent respectively. There is no doubt in my mind that Macalester's commitment to access is more deep-rooted and tangible than what can be found at the vast majority of our peers, that we perform a service to society in holding to that commitment, and that we benefit immensely from the range of backgrounds and perspectives that economic diversity brings to our campus.
We cannot, however, turn away from the challenges with which this commitment to access presents us. Because financial aid is both our largest and our least controllable expense, our budget is both more strapped and more difficult to manage than at other, similar colleges. Money spent on financial aid is money that cannot be spent on the faculty, staff, programs, sports, facilities, study-abroad opportunities and other reasons for which students attend Macalester. What is invested in access to Macalester cannot be
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