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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Out of Order: A more respectful conversation

“Grinnell College is proud to invest in you.” 

So begins a letter we all received after winter break from Clint Korver, Chair of the Grinnell Board of Trustees. The letter explains that the College endowment, dubbed the “Grinnell Legacy Fund,” pays for approximately 24 percent of the cost of our education, though such funds do not appear on our financial aid statements nor did we ever ask for the money. “We’re telling you this,” the letter claims, “because it’s important to the College … that you understand what other Grinnellians have done for you, so that you will hopefully do the same[.]”

This letter carries the right message, but it says it in the wrong way.

Grinnell is an expensive school—we all know this—and it’s getting more expensive. The comprehensive fee for the 2013-14 school year is 53,654 dollars, a six percent increase from the last period, and the fee is set to rise again this year. Perpetually expensive textbooks and new laws generating uncertainty over student loan interest rates have only made matters worse. The financial crisis of 2008 is still being felt across the country and, though employment has risen, real wages continue to languish. In sum, Grinnell is expensive, and exogenous factors have done nothing to make that high cost more bearable for students and their families.

To offset this, Grinnell uses two long-standing and impressive policies: need-blind admission and meeting 100 percent of demonstrated financial need. The College has a high discount rate and a large number of students who qualify for some form of need-based aid. Drawing on the so-called “Grinnell Legacy Fund,” the College not only meets all demonstrated financial need of its students, but also pays for, as the letter notes, 24 percent of the per-student cost of education. This is a big financial commitment, and, as its beneficiaries, we students should be aware of it and grateful for it, as without it, some of us—including me—would be unable to attend Grinnell.

The Board of Trustees is right to attempt to instill a spirit of giving in the student body. Its message to us of commitment and encouragement is sensible, straightforward and warranted. But that message, however correct, will fall on deaf ears: students and their families, many of whom are already struggling financially in this difficult economic climate, are highly unlikely to want to donate to a college for which they are already paying high tuition. If the Board wants to encourage students to give back, it will not be able to do so using its current message.

What, then, is the alternative?

The current message of the Board of Trustees appears to be, ‘Many generous alumni have worked very hard to make your education possible, and we hope that you will do the same either now or in the future.’ While the Board is right to instill this spirit of giving, its message could be reworked to make it far more effective.

Mr. Korver says many things in his letter about the deep financial commitment of the College, the Trustees and alumni to our education. He fails to note, however, that we students are also deeply financially committed to our own education. Though the College’s financial aid policies are some of the best in the country, many students and their families still work hard to make a Grinnell education possible. My family, for example, took out a home equity loan to finance my first year at Grinnell, and I know several of my classmates whose families have done the same.

If Mr. Korver and the rest of the Board of Trustees wish to inspire in us the spirit of giving, they will need to first recognize our financial efforts on our own behalf before encouraging us to make further financial commitments. By being mindful of the sacrifices that many of us and our families make to attend Grinnell, their message is at once sympathetic and hortatory: ‘Grinnell is a big investment, and we know you’re working hard to finance your education.

We, the Trustees and alumni, are also working hard to make your education possible. Working together, we’ll get you a degree, and after you graduate, we invite you to join our efforts.’

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