At Wellesley, students on financial aid are expected to pay a ‘student contribution,’ a minimum of $1,950 per year, unless specifically stated in their award letter. Student Financial Services (SFS) expects that students and their parents on financial aid will be partners in funding the student’s education and includes in financial aid letters recommended parent and student contributions. Regardless of the amount of aid received or their financial need, students’ minimum contributions are $1,950. The formula for calculating the student and parental contribution is owned by the College Board, so SFS cannot release this information. However, this $1,950 student contribution, while small in comparison to the total cost of attending Wellesley, can be significant for low- income students. By requiring students to pay a minimum cost, Wellesley College overlooks the burden it places on low- income students.
According to a survey sent to the student body by a working group within the Student Labor Action Project, of the 64 students who responded, 38.1 percent answered that the student contribution was unaffordable. 25.4 percent responded that outside scholarships offset some or all of their student contribution, 17.5 percent responded that their parents pay for some or all of the student contribution and 7.9 percent said they did not have a student contribution. Only 3.1 percent of those who responded to the survey said that their student contribution is affordable.
Of the students who responded to the survey, 68.2 percent come from families with yearly incomes of $75,000 or less, and 23.8 percent come from families with yearly incomes of $25,000 or less. In addition, 43.8 percent of students who responded were first-generation college students. Based on the results of the survey, it appears that the student contribution places the most significant burden on low-income and first-generation college students, who already face numerous obstacles to attending Wellesley. In addition, many students’ parents pay for the student contribution, which means that it is not money the college is necessarily receiving from students.
For those who do pay their own student contribution, affording it may require working 10+ hours a week or taking out more student loans. I can think of several students I personally know who have at least two jobs in order to afford going to Wellesley and paying for other expenses. This leaves them with less time to dedicate to schoolwork and unpaid opportunities, such as student org participation or unpaid internships.
Through speaking with students on financial aid, I’ve learned that many contributions increase each year, but not in proportion to changes in their personal income. This may lead to a cycle where the student’s contribution increases, leading to them having to work more, and then having a higher income which the school uses to calculate a higher contribution, and so on. Meanwhile, many low-income students are sending money home to their family or have other significant expenses, such as housing and travel costs. Unfortunately, because SFS is calculating students’ contributions based on a formula which which is the property of the College Board, it cannot release information on how or why these changes occur.
Financial aid is complicated; the policy of a minimum student contribution assumes that all students can afford $1,950. This assumption is not reflective of the experiences of all students. Moreover, students who are not on financial aid do not have a student contribution. This is because the student contribution is an amount only those who receive aid from Wellesley are expected to pay. If a student does not receive financial aid from the college, they do not receive an award letter and therefore are not expected to pay a student contribution because their family is paying for the full cost of Wellesley. Thus, only students on financial aid, some of whom who are already struggling to afford other expenses, are expected to pay this amount. A student working group that I am part of is working on this specific issue. Through ongoing research, we want to understand how the student contribution is affecting Wellesley students. If the student contribution has impacted your experience at Wellesley, we are interested in hearing about your experience. For more information, you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.