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Letter from Fords for Affordability

Yesterday, Fords for Affordability presented to the Finance and Student Affairs Committees of the Board of Managers. We spoke on the urgency of keeping the no-loan policy. We specifically discussed Haverford’s moral commitment to the policy, the extent to which middle-income students are deeply “co-invested” in their education, and the potential of no-loan to increase Haverford’s yield of top students. The meeting went well. The Board seemed receptive to our ideas–as if they genuinely want to maintain the policy. However, those that asked questions employed the rhetoric about “financial pragmatism.” While we recognize that maintaining the policy costs money, we urge the Board to think of no-loan as an investment that will ensure that Haverford receives the top students that will then reinvest in Haverford in the future. We simply cannot compromise on no-loan, and so the question then becomes “How can we make Haverford more financially efficient to free up the small amount it takes to maintain no-loan?” Asking this will not only improve Haverford’s institutional model, but ensure its continued accessibility and desirability to lower- and middle-class students.

Editor’s Note: Below is the text of the speech students prepared for members of the Board. 

Emily Mayer ’14

We are here representing Fords for Affordability, a student organization that has dedicated the past two months to facilitating conversation amongst the student body about the no-loan policy. I’ll say before I begin how much we appreciate the invitation to speak before you today; it is an honor and a testament to the Board’s and the President’s desire to include as many voices as possible in this weighty decision, a decision that will impact all of us and what kind of institution Haverford will become. So thank you, for all the hard work you’ve done and will continue to do around this issue, and for having us here.

The no-loan policy, in the six years that it has been in effect, has become essential to Haverford’s accessibility to the middle class and character as a community, and essential to Haverford as a unique brand. Instituted in 2007, the no-loan policy was the response to a discrepancy in yield; while equal percentages of low-income and high-income admitted students decided to attend Haverford, when it came to the middle-class the percentage dipped. The no-loan policy has entirely eliminated this problem; it has also become foundational to attracting middle- and low-income students away from our peer institutions. According to a 2011/2012 student survey, 2/3 of students on financial aid said they would not be at Haverford had they not received the aid package that they did.

But we don’t just need to listen to that 2/3. Over the past week, Fords for Affordability has collected 572 signatures of students urging you, the Board, to preserve the no-loan policy. These signatures do not just represent students who unknowingly signed on. They represent countless conversations that we’ve had with students who testify to the starring role the absence of loans played in their ability and desire to attend this school. Another testament: the student experience survey conducted last month, filled out by over 400 Haverford students, identified financial aid and the no-loan policy specifically as one of students; top two priorities. It is important to note that the no-loan policy was not even an option on the survey, yet students independently and overwhelming filled it in as a monumental concern. Clearly students see the no-loan policy as integral to their experience of Haverford College.

The 2/3 who would not be here otherwise and these signatures are some of my best friends, the brightest in my classes, the students that work, everyday, to make this school what it is. The possibility that their future counterparts will be foreclosed from attending this institution suggests that the price of eliminating this policy is simply too high. The demographics of this institutionwill shift if this policy is reversed, and that damages the brand we’ve already invested so much in cultivating.

The story these numbers tell indicate that this policy is integral not just to those directly affected but also to the community as a whole and to the brand of this institution. In fact, I know that this policy is crucial to the entirety of the student body. In Spring 2012, students came together through the most important exercise we have, Plenary, to voice our firm and unwavering support for maintaining a robust financial aid policy inclusive of no-loan. I quote from the passed resolution:

“Recognizing the centrality of access to the College, and Lauding the administration and friends of the College for their support in building and sustaining a “need blind” admission policy and a no-loan policy, Let it be resolved that the Students’ Association firmly calls upon the Board of Managers to maintain the aforementioned policies, even in light of an unfavorable economic climate. The policies are fundamental to fulfilling the mission of the College to create a liberal arts education that informs and is informed by a diverse community uninhibited by the barriers of socioeconomic disparity.

The student voice is clear. We have received an overwhelming amount of student and alumni support over the past two months. These policies, as recognized by the Spring 2012 plenary, have become essential to how we as students understand our college’s commitment to diversity, accessibility, and equity. They have become essential to how we see Haverford’s unique brand. We need this policy not only as students making financially responsible college choices, but also as a community that espouses integrity as an essential and also competitive feature of who we are. It is this community that you all have the opportunity to speak to and to support through your vote. And I urge you to do so, for the sake of the students who wouldn’t be here without this policy, and for the future of Haverford as an economically thriving yet also culturally distinct and therefore competitive institution.

Ian Gavigan ’14

Thank you Emily for framing our discussion in terms of the deeply held values and identity we share as Haverfordians and for pointing to the ways no-loan has brought more top students to this community, making Haverford stronger and more competitive in the several years since its implementation.

I will now speak about what it means to be a middle-income student without loans–as a person who would not be here were it not for his loan-free financial aid package–and the ways we students are deeply invested in multiple ways in our Haverford educations.

At the public presentation given by Dan Weiss and Jess Lord, where students filled Chase Auditorium beyond capacity, the modified-loan policy was presented as an opportunity for middle-income students to “co-invest” in their Haverford education. A small loan, we were told, would be an easy way for Haverford students to contribute to the costs of their education. What’s 10 or 12 thousand dollars for a Haverford diploma?

Let me tell you, a small loan is never small.

Many in this room probably worked while attending school. Haverford students on financial aid are also working, on- and off-campus, to make ends meet. Indeed, since my second semester at Haverford, I have held at least two jobs. Last spring, it was three. Students on financial aid work 6, 8, 12–sometimes even 16–hours a week to keep this school running but also to earn the money that lets us contribute to our tuition, buy groceries and other necessities, get ourselves around, and–for some–pay off the outside loans they had to take out, bridging the gap between their family’s real ability to pay and their College grant.

This hard work is a good thing. Students enjoy and feel passionately about the work they do.

But, keep in mind our labor comes at a cost.

In exchange for the time spent at our jobs, we give up the opportunity to be engaged in campus life in some of the most exciting, community-focused ways. It is nearly impossible for someone working a regular job–on-campus or otherwise–preparing diligently for classes, and still, for example, become a Students’ Council Co-president, serve on Honor Council, take leadership in programs such as Customs, shine in art, sports, music, clubs.

Financial aid status even frames where and how we can choose to live. I, for example, have spent my entire time at Haverford in the Apartments–not only because I like those spaces but above all because being off the Meal Plan helps me save my parents $6000 a year. I work to buy my food.

These are real and meaningful sacrifices. And I do not tell you my story to elicit pity or sadness or guilt–not at all. I’m proud of my work and my time at Haverford.

Instead, I mean to illustrate the extent to which the very experience of being a middle-income student, on financial aid, at Haverford is structured by co-investment. Put simply, co-investment is what we do.

Middle-income students come here because we want to. We are signing on for the intense and intentional, ethical and exceptional academic Community–buying into the Haverford product. I hope you’ll keep in mind that we already give significantly of ourselves–of our time, money, and communal-opportunities–to be here.

Introducing another layer of cost to an already heavily-worked population will only add a anxiety, frustration, and debt to students’ lives while at the same time forcing my future colleagues to work even more hours to save up for the inevitable loan payments.

A small loan is never small.

Please keep this in mind as you deliberate on this most-difficult of decisions.

Now I’d like to turn the floor over to Tafari who will speak about a hopeful future for our Community, propelled forward by continued investment in students through no-loan financial aid.

Tafari James ’17

I encourage you to consider the no-loan policy as an investment, not a cost.

The no-loan policy is an investment because it ensures that top applicants will increasingly apply to and matriculate at Haverford. Top students become top alumni, and top alumni can donate more money to the school. In this sense, the no-loan policy is an investment that will eventually yield more donation revenue.”

Now, allow me to explain how the no-loan policy will attract more top students

First and foremost, maintaining the no-loan policy places Haverford in an exclusive peer group that only contains Ivy League institutions and two other liberal arts colleges. We have already seen that this policy has increased Haverford’s matriculation rate to an equal level as our top two competitors, Brown and Swarthmore, and has propelled us far beyond Wesleyan. This trend will only intensify as more schools abandon their liberal financial aid policies.”

Second, the no-loan policy fits centrally into our brand, and our brand is our strongest tool in attracting top students. Our brand revolves around our commitment to an intentional, diverse and ethical community. This brand is uniquely effective in attracting like-minded top applicants, and creates a less crowded space for us to compete in. We could chase our peers into the crowded and expensive space of building ‘state-of-the-art,’ luxurious facilities, but this strategy would not play to our comparative advantage. The most capital-efficient way for us to attract top students is for us to focus on matriculating 100% of those top students who are attracted to our brand of intentional, ethical, diverse community.”


We agree that financial aid cannot compromise educational quality at Haverford and we appreciate you hearing us out. There are, however, alternative ways to address the budget that don’t compromise educational quality–this is something we would like to address in our conversation.

Since the president’s presentation in Chase, students have time and again come up to us and discussed ways the college can save money by reducing inefficiencies. We want to discuss how we might activate the student body as a group of 1200 consultants with different perspectives that have been cultivated through jobs and activities on campus. Bringing us all into the conversation will bring to light serious areas for the College to increase efficiency and save money.

To reiterate our stance: The no-loan policy has become an integral part of this community. Loans would alienate a population that is already committed to a significant amount of coinvestment. However, by maintaining this policy we will only further increase our yield of top students who are drawn by our exceptional character and matriculate here uninhibited by the barriers of socioeconomic disparity

We have already begun to see the fruits of our labor as we have pulled significantly ahead of peer institutions like Wesleyan and broken even with the likes of Brown and Swarthmore.

This program works.

On behalf of all the members of Fords for Affordability, the 572 students who signed our petition, the hundreds of students who told the Strategic Planning group–without ever being asked–that no-loan is vitally important to the continued success of this community, the many alumni who have reached out in support, future Haverfordians, and those silent voices in this very room who stand with us: We ask you to support the no-loan policy. If not indefinitely, we ask that the Board maintain the no-loan policy for five more years. Only recently have many of our peer institutions withdrawn their no-loan policies, making Haverford one of three liberal arts colleges with such a program. We have not been in this newly exclusive peer group for long enough to see its full impact on the matriculation of top students. We have already invested in this experiment–we ask you to continue investing for long enough to begin to realize its full return.

Again, thank you for letting us speak with you.  We’d like to shift into a conversation for our remaining time.

As we continue, I hope we can all speak with a generosity of spirit, keeping in mind the multiple and unique knowledges that each of us brings to the table. We hope you will use this opportunity to ask questions that draw from us thoughts, responses, and further questions that would be otherwise unrepresented in the room when you come to a decision.


  1. Jon S-L February 8, 2014

    Haverford is one of about 14 schools in the country to meet 100% of demonstrated need without loans. While I think that the no-loan policy is fantastic and a wonderful demonstration of the College’s values, it seems to me to be unfair to say that it is the only way to keep Haverford affordable. Thoughts?

    • Neilay Shah February 10, 2014

      But if we think about that point from the other side, isn’t being 1 of only 10 schools (all of which are Ivy except for two other liberal arts colleges) an amazing marketing tool for Haverford? The no-loan policy makes us stand out as 1 of the 3 most elite liberal arts institutions to hold such a policy. Haverford is becoming unaffordable for a plethora of reasons, but perhaps the question is: ‘how do we keep Haverford competitive?’ as the liberal arts model is beginning to falter?

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