College one of 63 “Best Value” schools
Out of 1,070 colleges and universities surveyed by U.S. News and World Report, CBS Money Watch recognized the college as one of 63 schools that claim to meet 100 percent of their students’ financial need. The College was also included on the U.S. News’ list of “Best Value Colleges” among liberal arts colleges.
The Best Value calculation was based on each college’s “2011 U.S. News Best Colleges ranking and the 2009-2010 net cost of attendance for a student who receives the average level of need-based financial aid,” according to the U.S. News website. Using this formula, Colby was ranked number 39, with 37.8 percent of students receiving need-based grants and a 60 percent average discount from the total cost of attendance.
“Anytime we’re on one of these lists it’s a good thing,” Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Parker Beverage said. “It means, among other things, that we award financial aid in a sensible and generous way….It’s a $200,000 purchase that a family’s making and there are a number of other colleges competing.”
Director of Financial Aid Lucia Whittelsey expressed similar sentiments. “Our commitment to meeting need is very, very important,” she said. “We’re much better than the national average.”
The No Loan Financial Aid Policy plays a large role in the College’s financial aid system. Instituted in the 2008-2009 academic year, this policy has eliminated the requirement of students to take out loans to cover their financial needs. According to a report issued by the College Board, loans consist of more than half of a normal financial aid distribution nationally.
“Ninety-four percent of aid in an average Colby package is a grant,” Whittelsey said. She also said that the implementation of the no-loans policy meant that “any student that qualified for aid got $34-36,000 more per year in grants.”
While students are not required to take out loans, they may still elect to take out loans to cover expenses of the expected family contribution. The decline in the economy seems to have increased the number of students that take advantage of this ability.
“Instead of not borrowing as much, students are borrowing anyway…to decrease the family contribution,” Whittelsey said. “The ideal [outcome] was that students could graduate without any loans. Then the economy did what it did and it became useful for helping parents.” Students who do choose to take out loans have very good repayment rates and very low default rates. In 2009, graduates of the College had a zero percent default rate on the commonly-used, fixed-rate Stafford loans.
“It resonates with families that are trying to make ends meet and put their children through college,” Beverage said. “We’ve got high quality faculty, we’ve got the facilities…so I’m not surprised we’re on the Best Value list.”
However, considering the complexity of higher education, both Whittelsey and Beverage are wary of relying too heavily on college ratings. Instead, the College continues working to increase the availability of financial aid for its students each year.
The formula for these rankings changes from year to year, and there are limits to rankings’ ability to portray all aspects of a college. “The public really thirsts for these rankings…lean[ing] way too heavily on these shortcuts,” Beverage said.
“I think that the bottom line is that when [families] sit down to compare aid offers, it shows up more then.” Whittelsey said. “There are not very many institutions left that can meet the full need of students and still be need blind.” In addition to increasing fundraising efforts, the percentage of the College’s operating budget that is devoted to financial aid has also increased steadily over the years.