Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Students find financing a Whitman education difficult

The Whitman Financial Aid Office prides itself on striving to provide access to a wide group of students. Unfortunately, a number of students are missing from campus this year due to increasing tuition costs and individual decreased financial aid.

Although the percentage of students who have received need-based aid has increased year after year and the total amount in scholarship expenditures that Whitman gave this year is the highest it’s been in the past three years, students and their families are finding it more difficult to justify financing an education at Whitman.

Former Whitman student Troy Cameron attended Whitman as a first-year on a scholarship last year. For his family, the cost to attend Whitman was high, but they managed with the help of financial aid.

“Last year I received . . . about $27,000 [in scholarship], had work study opportunities and took on two loans. This turned out to be manageable with my parents paying maybe $17,000 out-of-pocket,” he said.

However, when Cameron received his aid for the 2011-2012 academic year this summer, he was shocked.

“[This year’s aid] was a whole different story. My scholarship was cut to a measly $9,000, the work study was gone, as was one of the loan options. This left my family with roughly $42,000 grand to pony up for one year alone; and I had two more to come afterwards,” he said.

Cameron said that when he contacted the Financial Aid Office, he was told that because his family’s income had slightly increased and because his brother was no longer in school, his family had more capacity to support him.

“In theirĀ  minds, that effectively more than doubled what we should pay. Except that my brother’s schooling cost maybe $500 for the year,” he said.

Cameron decided not to return to Whitman after realizing how many loans he and his family would have to take on to finance his Whitman education.

“We really had to sit down and consider what a Whitman College education was worth. In the end it certainly was not worth destroying our financial lives for my little self-contained liberal arts experience,” he said.

According to Director of Financial Aid Marilyn Ponti, every single family’s financial aid package is unique and is tailored to each family’s needs.

“When we look at a family’s situation, we look at the whole family’s situation, we look at living costs, but we also have to look at total income,” Ponti said. “There are many factors that change and play into it.

Ponti notes that Whitman’s retention rate, which is 94.7 percent, is the highest it’s been in the past five years. She hopes that this is a reflection of students’ satisfaction in their financial aid.

“We hope that that’s a reflection that the financial aid is sufficient for them and they’re able to come back because there’s not financial issues,” Ponti said.

Katie Hudson, a former Whitman student, disagrees.

“That may be true for the general population, but as an individual I wasn’t satisfied with the amount of aid given to me,” she said.

Like Cameron, Hudson attended Whitman as a first-year and decided not to return because of decreased financial aid. According to Hudson, her family found a lack of response from the Financial Aid Office towards her need.

“My family was in shock about how little Whitman seemed to care about me,” she said.

Students whose parents own real estate or a business have found themselves hit particularly hard by the recent trends of the economy. Sophomore Julian Hayward, whose financial aid was affected by his family business income increase, cites the fact that the office doesn’t take into account net income in accounting for his decreased aid. Hayward’s family additionally lost a source of income.

Net income versus gross income is the amount business owners gain from their business after all costs such as depreciation, interest and taxes.

“They only took into account our gross income and had a specific allowance for other expenses, but aside from that they didn’t look at our net income,” Hayward said. “Since my family owns a business, that involves a gigantic amount of overhead, so our net income is a lot smaller than they calculate.”

Hayward is planning on leaving after this semester to attend San Francisco State University where his federal financial aid can help subsidize the lower cost of education.

Dean of Admission Tony Cabasco noted that the office strives to meet every family’s needs, but they cannot always meet 100 percent of a student’s needs.

“There will be individual cases where some families will struggle for one reason or another, and in many cases we may be able to help those families, and some we may not be able to help out although I’m sure they may feel some financial need,” Cabasco said. “We do calculate gross income, but we subtract from there taxes and other measures.”

Ponti further emphasized that the Financial Aid Office aims to graduate everyone and provide the means for students to attend four full years at Whitman.

“With the economy the way it is right now, we have helped a lot of families, but we also have had to ensure that we as an institution are fiscally responsible by making sure our budget is balanced,” she said. “We try to treat everyone the same, based on the data that we’ve looked at.”

Although Hudson is frustrated with the the financial aid she received this year from the Office of Financial Aid, she says she would return if she had the means to return.

“I love Whitman, but I don’t think it’s worth that much without financial aid,” she said.

Cameron feels similarly. Although he can no longer afford to attend Whitman, he hopes that he can find a different educational experience outside of Whitman at a more affordable price.

“There’s much more real-world experience to be found and at a much more reasonable price outside of the Whitman bubble,” he said.

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    Parent of student in 2015 classOct 11, 2011 at 12:31 am

    I have to say that as a parent of an incoming freshmen who deferred admission one year and experienced a similarly dramatic drop in financial aid entering the class of 2015 instead of 2014, this article rings very true for us.

    I wonder how many other stories there are like this that the college is unaware of outside of the financial aid office staff? Not only did the aid package (presented as a merit-based scholarship with the admission letter) get cut in half without any explanation, but attempts to communicate with the financial aid director were difficult and left us seriously questioning Whitman’s policies and commitment to its admitted students and their families.