Mount Holyoke News 1996-1997

February 6, 1997

Concerned alum on fin-aid

by Kristy Dyer '93

With much thought and a deep concern for the future of Mount Holyoke College, I address the task force on the proposed changes to financial aid.

I have spent the last few years in graduate-school induced poverty and I am well aware of the fact that the real world judges you on your financial position. I am also aware of the financial bottom lie. Money is the hard line behind good intentions. My understanding of these ideas leads me to tithe of my minimal teaching assistant salary to the alumnae fund - it's not my nostalgia for Mount Holyoke that will keep the old alma mater going, but my willingness to invest in its future.

But there is more that differentiates Mount Holyoke from IBM than assets and profits. Mount Holyoke began with a clearly envisioned dream; when I was there it was probably best described as an attitude. Every organization has its roots, for better or for worse. You can draw from them, or work to overcome them, but they are still the foundation. Mount Holyoke, unlike many of her sister schools, does not need to overcome the ignominy of arising to provide brides for ivy league graduates (on the other hand I wince when I think of the mistakes as well as the mercies visited on "heathens" abroad by our early missionaries).

Part of our heritage was evidenced by a much photocopied newspaper article from the last century passed around while I was in school. Among the admission requirements to this earlier Mount Holyoke was the ability to cook and knowledge of how to peel a potato. Mount Holyoke was never intended to be a finishing school for well-to-do women. This history and atmosphere, much discussed and praised in Mount Holyoke admission materials, is also an asset to be weighed along with finances. It is what makes Mount Holyoke what it is, a place for students to begin their life-work.

The advantage of trimming off a little financially from the bottom of the applicant pool is clear in dollars and cents. The cost I think will be higher than anticipated. The statement that one can be middle of the road and well off and still attend Mount Holyoke, but not middle of the road and poor, will be heard among our future applicants and reverberate among the students currently at Mount Holyoke.

The majority of future applicants I think will not be our nieces and daughters but the smart and achieving women I've met. They choose from a wide range of schools and have no family history to steer them toward chilly New England. They have already had to separate Mount Holyoke from schools that have a reputation for negative elitism (and snobbery). They hardly believe me when I say that Mount Holyoke offers financial aid and has need-blind admissions, that the student body is very diverse, and there is a place there for them. And now, if this change goes through, my statement on the attitude of Mount Holyoke will be flatly contradicted on the application.

While much is made of diversity, there are few situations where we can forget ourselves long enough to learn from someone else. Mount Holyoke was academically intense, not competitive. While the makeup of the student body may shift only a small amount due to the new financial aid policy, the change in climate will be out of proportion, a response to the perceived change in values.

Students are intimately aware of the financial cost behind their education. During the time I was there, there was a small but regular flare-up of fin aid versus full tuition tensions. The rising cost of tuition is hard even on families that don't qualify for financial aid, and students from these families, expressing an honest frustration, would complain that college wouldn't be so expensive if they weren't paying for both their education and the education of a financial aid student. This would be quelled immediately by the fact that financial aid does not come out of the tuition revenue, but from alumnae, endowment and investments. In addition, every student was receiving some support since tuition did not reflect the full cost of education. This is oversimplified, but the knowledge that students were not differentiated by their financial background made possible the diverse and supportive atmosphere so valuable to Mount Holyoke.

I know how important it is to spend wisely; living within ones means is the only way to guarantee a stable future. However I ask the committee to go back and try to find a way of preserving our future viability without impinging upon such an issue critical to the reputation and climate of Mount Holyoke.

It seems a simple thing to do, to adjust admissions policies for the bottom of the applicant pool. However, it echoes an unfair and frustrating battle facing all Mount Holyoke women in the working world - that in order for a woman to do as well as a man she has to be twice as good. I don't think Mount Holyoke should make that kind of compromise. The argument that other schools already have is irrelevant. I remember very well Smith's decision to drop their need-blind policy. My only response is that Mount Holyoke is not Smith College. We have a history and a mission of our own. Our decisions have to be made in that framework.

This is not the first time Mount Holyoke has been under financial duress. I urge the president, board and trustees to work to find a solution in keeping with the character of the institution.

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