ARBOR WEALTH: The new collegiate landscape: Paying to play on campus

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 05:12 PM.

“How I Got Into College” is an endearing romantic comedy released in 1989 and directed by Steve Holland. It’s a quirky and silly film, without murder or mayhem, starring Anthony Edwards, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Corey Parker. 

The lighthearted movie relates the story of Marlon, a young man who wants to attend Ramsey College in Pennsylvania because his potential girlfriend is also going there. Marlon is not an outstanding student, nor does he possess special skills that would win the admiration of the college admissions committee.

Marlon struggles with mind-numbing SAT questions, with the difficulty of crafting and staging his admissions application video and with significant travel hiccups en route to Ramsey.  Since it’s a feel good film, the admissions committee ultimately stamps “Admitted” on his application, and eventually Marlon and his girlfriend stroll the pastoral campus together.

Now, fast forward to the American collegiate landscape in 2013 and name the American college that, second only to Harvard, writes off more of its tuition than any other school. The answer? Grinnell College in Iowa. 

But that is likely to change, according to NPR’s Tovia Smith, who interviewed Grinnell President Raynard Kington on a recent edition of “All Things Considered”:  “… as we continue to give more and more aid, the numbers don’t add up,” relates Kingston.

Grinnell College and its extraordinary gifts of financial aid to students represent a unique situation.  “(Grinnell) …  has an endowment bigger than most schools dream of, thanks in large part to the guidance of billionaire investor Warren Buffett,” Smith says.  “For years, that’s enabled Grinnell to admit students on a need-blind basis and then give them as much aid as they need. Today, Grinnell effectively writes off more than 60 percent of its tuition.” The term “need-blind” means that student applications are considered on merit alone, not on their family’s ability to pay.

Kington now says, though, that it’s “more than Grinnell can afford without compromising the quality of its education.”  According to Kington, eliminating expenses in other areas is not the answer.

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