Quality & Access at Macalester
invested in what happens at Macalester. The question hereboth an ethical and a practical one, I thinkis how do we balance the good of providing access against the good of providing the best possible education for the students we exist to serve?
Spending less on students
This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that Macalester now receives, and has long received, less philanthropic support than do most of our peers: more dollars flow out in the form of aid while fewer dollars flow in from charitable gifts. By nearly any measureoverall giving, annual fund giving, percentage of alumni who contributeMacalester continues to lag well below the median in our peer group, a reality we are working energetically and with some success to change, a reality that I am convinced will change, but a part of our history and our present nonetheless. Our endowment, while healthy, is about average within that peer group and is not nearly large enough to fund even a majority of the operations of the college. One telling way of measuring our commitment to access is to note that the amount we spent on financial aid in 20032004 ($20 million) comprised about 80 percent of our total endowment distribution for the yearmeaning that we might describe the endowment as being used chiefly to support access and only marginally to support the activities of the college. That number is projected to rise to 89 percent in 20042005 and to nearly 100 percent in 20052006.
This combination of factors means that at present Macalester is able to spend considerably less on our students than do most of our peers. In 20022003, for instance, our expenditures per student exclusive of financial aid were $9,000 less than at Carleton, $8,000 less than at Hamilton and $8,000 less than at Colby, all of which have endowments of roughly the same size as our own. We spent less per student than Kenyon, Bates and Connecticut College, each of whose endowments is less than half of our own.
Such numbers may seem abstract and irrelevant; more concrete are these facts:
Though we must assiduously seek out opportunities to be more efficient and cost-effective, we have in recent years hardly been profligate.
Most troubling of all may be the fact that the problem appears to be growing: our rate of tuition discount (along with our need to cut budgets) has for a decade been increasing much more quickly than at other top liberal arts colleges.
Of course, resources are not the only indicator of excellence, but they are in education, as in virtually any other enterprise, an important indicator: while financial investment is no guarantee of academic quality, the absence of such investment pretty much guarantees that quality will suffer. And we seek quality not to satisfy some external audience or to chase reputation, but to fulfill our own internal and intrinsic responsibility to educate global citizens and leaders at the highest possible level. To shirk that responsibility by diluting the quality of a Macalester education would be to neglect our primary social obligation and to squander the glorious opportunities with which this college is presented.
Balancing access and quality
So how do we confront this dilemma? The answer cannot be to turn away from the challenge because it is complex and uncomfortable to discuss or to retreat behind phrases that often conceal more than they reveal. "Need-blind," for instance, is itself a somewhat misleading term. At Macalester we have for years been "need-blind" only for
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