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Via Instagram:

williamscollege: Did you know QuestBridge students made up 15% of the Class of 2022? #aimhigh #williams2022

The use of Questbridge is the most important change in Williams admissions in the last decade. I suspect that it now accounts for the vast majority of both low-income and first-gen students in each Williams class.

But how well do Questbridge students do at Williams, compared to the students we used to admit before Questbridge existed? The fact that the College doesn’t like to talk about this comparison speaks volumes . . .


4: Cancel Questbridge

The Questbridge program does not cost more than $200,000 directly. (I am unsure of the exact cost to Williams but think that it is something like $5,000 per student enrolled. ) But the Questbridge students themselves, many of whom would never have applied to Williams were it not for the Questbridge connection, are very expensive, almost by definition. Cancelling Questbridge would cause fewer poor students to apply to Williams. Some of those students would be replaced by other poor students. But others would be replaced by non-poor students. Williams can stiff officially (and honestly) claim to be need-blind even if it no longer pays extra money to steer more poor applicants in our direction. (A similar effect could come from guiding admissions officers to spend more time at rich schools (especially internationally) and less time at poor schools and/or with poor students. But, since there is no specific program that one can point to on that regard, I’ll leave it aside for now.


Newest Questbridge Ephs

Congratulations to these Ephs from the class of 2013, admitted early decision via the Questbridge program.

Claudia Corona Los Angeles, CA
Kelsey Gaetjens Lihue, HI
Maria Galvez Chicago, IL
Ivory Goudy Decatur, GA
Christopher Hikel Fryeburg, ME
Sarai Infante Bronx, NY
Christopher Simmons Los Angeles, CA
Ginette Sims Westminster, CA
Kwan Tang Brooklyn, NY
Carly Valenzuela Bermuda Dunes, CA
Laura Villafranco Jarrell, TX
Jonathan Wosen San Diego, CA

Gaetjens, Galvez and Wosen were awarded Tyngs.

Congratulations to all!

Questbridge provides background on some of the winners, but I couldn’t figure out how to link directly. So, below, are those descriptions. They seem to be written by the students themselves.
Read more


Questbridge Ephs

A reader notes:

Questbridge has announced its most recent matches, and among them are four new Ephs: Newton Davis (Saginaw, MI), Raven Hills (Shreveport, LA), Rigoberto Ruiz-Bonilla (Santa Ana, CA by way of the Brooks School), and Ashley Terrell (Compton, CA).

Thought you/other EphBlog readers would like to know.

Indeed. Previous posts on Questbridge here.


Questbridge ’12

Although early decision results are not due for another 10 days, applicants who applied through Questbridge apparently know whether or not they are the newest members of the Williams class of 2012. Previous Questbridge blogging here, here and here.

Welcome to our newest Ephs!


Questbridge ’11

Questbridge announced its initial 102 winners. The future Ephs are:

Irtefa Binte-Farid Charlottesville, Virginia

Kim Bui Solon, Ohio

Carla Cain-Walther Media, Pennsylvania

Yu Rim Chung Lakewood, California

Erika Garcia Wimberley, Texas

Chelsea Luttrell Anchorage, Alaska

Nicholas Williams Redmond, Washington

Johannes Wilson New York City, New York

Joshua Wilson New York City, New York

Congratulations to all! Details provided in the news release included:

Johannes and Joshua Wilson, twin brothers from New York, who will both attend Williams College. Their single mother works two jobs as a home health aide to support four children and her mom — all while living in Manhattan. Their father is dead. Both brothers are writing their own novels. Johannes is active in service, and is chairman of the Specialized High Schools institute. Joshua has been taking classes at Hunter College on his own initiative.

Previous Questbridge commentary here, here and here.

Welcome to the new Ephs!


Taylor Thesis IV: Questbridge

Taylor provides some interesting details on Questbridge in pages 29-30.

A very new initiative for Williams is participation in the QuestBridge Program, which is a third party service that matches low-income, high-ability students with the top colleges and universities in the nation. The QuestBridge Program actively targets low-income students with the promise that if these students are able to become QuestBridge scholars, they will be given the opportunity to attend a prestigious university for no fee. QuestBridge rigorously chooses their scholars, and then matches the students with appropriate institutions based on their academic qualifications and their ability to qualify for a full ride. The program is effective because of its simple advertising campaign, which is easy for low-income students to understand, and because it takes a lot of the work out of the college search for these students. Since many low-income students are the first in their families to attend college, they are unfamiliar with the college application process, and the QuestBridge program simplifies the process for them. QuestBridge is attractive to colleges and universities because it identifies qualified low-income applicants, saving these institutions the trouble of finding these students themselves. It is helping these institutions reach out to low-income students by increasing awareness about the feasibility of attending a selective school.

The program is relatively new, as it was started in 2003, but seems to be valuable and effective thus far. For the 2004-2005 applicant year, Williams received 8 1 “matches” from the QuestBridge program. The college determined that 14 of these 8 1 actually qualified as needing a full ride under Williams’ financial aid equation, and all 14 were accepted. Of these students, 6 were male and 8 were female, and at least 9 of them were minority students. The students came fi-om all reaches of the United States, fi-om Hawaii to Texas to New York. In addition to these admits, Williams also contacted a number of other students from the QuestBridge list, telling them that the College could not offer them a full ride but that it could give them a great aid package and encouraging them to apply. Of these, seven students applied to Williams and accepted the offers of admission. Only one of these students was male, and five were minorities. With the QuestBridge program, Williams is essentially contracting out some of its admissions work, and this year received 21 students that otherwise inight not have applied. The college pays QuestBridge a $15,000 annual fee, then pays $4,000 for each student obtained through the program that completes his or her first year at Williams.

See here for previous EphBlog posts on Questbridge.



Considering that seven percent of Williams’ incoming first year class is arriving as a result of the Questbridge program, it’s interesting to get some insight into the program and the types of students it recruits. Here are profiles of some of the Questbridge students headed to Williams next year.


Best College, 5

Last week’s Record op-ed about making Williams the best college in the world has generated (a surprising amount of?) controversy, e.g., from President Adam Falk and Director of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01, hundreds (!) of faculty/staff, Professor Matt Carter, Professor Shawn Rosenheim, the Record editorial board, Crystal McIntosh ’20, Mi Yu ’20 and Joon Hun Seong ’14. See also here and here. Let’s spend a week discussing it. Today is the last day.

Let’s finish our discussion by going through the four specific recommendations given in the op-ed and providing some links to prior discussions.

First, we need to loosen the admissions goal for international students, which is currently at 8 percent. Besides the problematic morality of a policy that is indistinguishable from the Jewish quotas implemented by elite colleges a century ago, treating an (English-fluent) applicant born in Shanghai differently from one born in St. Louis makes little sense. The best college in the world will have the best students, regardless of the color of their passports.

International admissions (and the quota thereon) has been an EphBlog topic for more than a decade. Classic posts here and here. Although an informed reader provides some interesting comments here, there is no reason that Williams could not go from 8% international to Harvard’s 11%. International admissions should also focus less on country diversity and more on academic qualifications. You can be sure, for example, that a lot of the accepted students from places like Afghanistan and Botswana were less qualified than dozens of rejected applicants from places China and South Korea.

Second, we need to significantly decrease the admissions preferences given to athletes. The College has been decreasing these preferences for 15 years. Despite much grumbling from coaches and predictions of mediocrity from fans, the Director’s Cup trophies continue to roll in. It turns out that Williams coaches are excellent recruiters even when admissions standards are raised. Let’s raise them some more.

Key documents in the history of athletic preferences in admissions include the MacDonald Report and the 2009 Update. Read this useful summary of the debate. Despite decreasing admissions preferences for athletes significantly over the last 20 years, William still wins the Directors Cup almost every year!

Third, we should decrease the preferences given to under-represented minorities (URM) and to students from low income families. Of course, there are scores of such students with top-notch academic credentials. They would still be admitted and, eagerly, enrolled. But, given a choice between a URM or poor student with a 620 SAT average and a non-URM (perhaps an Asian-American?) or non-poor student (perhaps the middle class child of public high school teachers?) with a 770 average, we should prefer the academically more talented applicant.

Who recalls my ten part series on the incoherence of the preferences that Williams, and other elite schools, provide to poor families? Good stuff! (Especially the last post.) At his recent talk in Boston, President Falk reported that about 20% of the class of 2021 were from a family in which neither parent had a four year BA and that 20% were from a family poor enough to qualify for a Pell Grant. (Of course, there is a big overlap between these two groups.) Many of these Ephs are AR 1s (often coming to us via Questbridge), among the smartest students at Williams. We need more like them! But, at the other end of the spectrum are weak students, AR 4s and 5s. We need more AR 1s and, if those students happen to be middle class or have parents who graduated from college, so be it.

Fourth, we need to recruit more seriously. The number of Tyng Scholarships should be increased and their use should be focused on the most desirable applicants, almost all of whom will be African-American. Rather than offering them for incoming first-years, we should use the Summer Science Program and Summer Humanities and Social Sciences Program to target high quality poor and URM high school juniors, potential applicants that we currently lose to HYPS. Senior faculty at the College should devote as much effort to attracting excellent students as our coaches do to recruiting excellent student-athletes.

The second biggest annoyance of the entire debate is the refusal of Falk, and the rest of the Williams administration, to take recruitment seriously. Not a single critic mentioned this paragraph. Williams desperately needs more AR 1/2/3 African-American students. We get some, but we lose many more to Harvard et al. Why don’t we do more? First, as I proposed 8 years ago, the College should award almost all Tyng Scholarships to African-Americans, thereby luring 4 to 8 high quality students away from our elite peers. Second, Williams should use SSP/SHSS as a recruitment tool, not a preparation tool. Imagine that we invited 30 (or 50 or 100!) of the smartest poor and/or URM students in the country to Williams during the summer after their junior year in high school, thereby showing them what a magical place Williams can be, giving each of them the experience of a Williams tutorial. Then, in August, we tell the best of them, with a wink-and-a-nod, that they will be accepted to Williams if they apply early decision.

That is just part of what we would do if we were seriously interested in recruiting the best African-American/Hispanic and/or poor students in the country to come to Williams. We don’t do those things because . . .


1,200 Academic Rating 2s

President Falk is not as transparent as former President Schapiro was about admissions statistics, but he does, on occasion, provide some interesting details. Mary Dettloff kindly provided this background on a Falk speech from several years ago.

In 2013, the number of applicants with an AR2 rating was 1,269. I am confirming that number for you since Adam did mention it at a private, not public, event that you attended. The information for the Class of 2021, however, is not information we have to report publicly anywhere, so I will not be providing that information.

Fair enough! And thanks, as always, to Mary for all her help with our endless questions.

1) “AR2” — which is the insider abbreviation for “Academic Rating 2” — is a standard designation in the ranking system that the Admissions Department uses. A reminder:

  • Academic 1: at top or close to top of HS class / A record / exceptional academic program / 1520 – 1600 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 2: top 5% of HS class / mostly A record / extremely demanding academic program / 1450 – 1520 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 3: top 10% of HS class / many A grades / very demanding academic program / 1390 – 1450 composite SAT I score;
  • Academic 4: top 15% of HS class / A – B record / very demanding academic program / 1310 – 1400 composite SAT I score;

2) We know from the 2005 Alumni Review article that any applicant without a “hook” [1] is rejected if their Academic Rating is below a 2 — that is why the raw number of AR2s is so important. Williams could fill its entire class with AR1s and AR2s! [2]

3) Recall the details from the latest Common Data Set (pdf):


It is a coincidence (?) that the 1450 combined math/verbal SAT average marks the cut off for AR2. But it sure is convenient! Speaking very broadly, half of every Williams class is admitted based on their academic ambition/talent/conscientiousness. The other half would not have been admitted were it not for their race/income/athleticism.

4) If it were me, I would place a lot more emphasis on academics and a lot less on everything else. What would Williams look like if we only admitted AR2s and above? Assume that we still cared about race/income/athletics. That is, we still give preference to AR2 hockey players over AR1 non-hockey players. What would our racial numbers look like? How well would our sports teams do?

[1] Almost all hooks are involve race/income/athletics. There are 66 athletic “tips” who would not have been admitted were it not for a nod from a Williams coach, and another 30 or so “protects” whose chances of admissions were only 50/50. Williams, like all elite schools, has huge problems finding enough qualified black/Hispanic applicants, and so is happy to take plenty who are AR3 or 4. Williams, especially via Questbridge, seeks applicants from poor families. (And the Development Office creates spots for (how many?) children of big donors.)

[2] Of course, it is hard to know for certain that this is true. We would need to know two other pieces of information: How many AR1 applicants are there and how well Williams yields among AR1s and 2s? Contrary opinions are welcome, but my strong sense is that, with so many AR2s (hundreds of whom Williams rejects outright), Williams could easily fill a class in which every student scored above 1450 in math/verbal SAT (with high school grades to match).


Almost 20% Low Income?

This naive and uninteresting article on elite college admissions mentions:

What top colleges and universities really have to do is reach out to students who don’t apply to them in the first place, said Adam Falk, the president of Williams College, almost 20 percent of whose students are low income, and which flies high-achieving low-income prospective applicants to its campus and teams up with a nonprofit called QuestBridge to find them.

The idea of need-blind admission “fits nicely on a bumper sticker,” Falk said. But “simply taking your admission pool and turning off your information about the financial need of students isn’t good enough. You have to go out there and find students. That means going into communities with high financial need and actively recruiting there.”

It also means supporting students from those places when they show up, Falk said.

Anyone who believes that 20% of the students at Williams are low income is a fool. Readers interested in this topic should start with this ten part rant from 2014.


Welcome to the Class of 2021

Early decision results came out on Friday. Welcome to the class of 2021!

1) If there are any aspiring writers in the class, please contact EphBlog. We would love to host your prose.

2) The College tweeted on December 1: “Welcome to the first 16 members of Class of 2021, admitted through the QuestBridge Match program. #Williams2021” The dramatic increase in the importance of Questbridge to Williams is one of the biggest admissions stories of the last 15 years. My understanding is that around 10% (200+) of current Williams students are Questbridge. True?

3) There are at least some alums who would be happy to consider pre-frosh for summer internships. One is here. Highly recommended! Don’t hesitate to start to make use of those Williams connections. Contact the Career Center for more info.


Admissions News Release

The College’s official news release is filled with interesting details. Unfortunately, I can’t find a record of similar news releases for any class prior to 2016. Pointers? Key sections:

Class of 2016:

Of the admitted students, 609 are women and 573 are men. Ninety-four students, or eight percent of the group, are non-U.S. citizens, representing 48 different nationalities. Among American students, 163 are African American, 229 Asian American, 164 Latino, and 14 Native American. Sixteen percent (193) would be the first in their families to attend college.

Class of 2020:

Of the admitted students, 623 are women and 583 are men. One hundred are international students representing 45 different nationalities. Among American students, 49 percent are students of color: 221 students are Asian American, 186 are black, 169 Latino, and 13 Native American. Twenty-one percent (255) are first-generation college students, and 9 percent (105) have a parent who attended Williams.

1) Raw admissions numbers don’t tell the full story because yield varies. If I had more time, I might try to subtract out the data from early admissions to get a better sense of if/how regular admissions statistics have changed. Left as an exercise for the reader!

2) As you would expect, there is much stability here. Williams does not change much year-to-year.

3) Most interesting number for the class of 2020 is that “19 percent (223 students) are affiliated with QuestBridge, an organization with which Williams has partnered since 2006 to identify talented, high-achieving high school students from low-income backgrounds.” Questbridge has been the single biggest change in Williams admissions in the last decade or more. I wish that we knew more about it.

4) Thanks to Mary Dettloff, Director of Media Relations, for help with background information.


Suggested Claiming Williams Events to Attend

In the spirit of cooperation, EphBlog recommends the following Claiming Williams events.

Let Me Tell You A (Really Fast) Story at 1:45pm to 3:15pm

Ever wonder what people you pass on your way to class are thinking? Ever want to tell them what’s on your mind? Storytime is hosting “Let Me Tell You A (Really Fast) Story,” which is your chance to put stories behind the names and faces of the students, faculty, and staff around you. Each participant will alternate listening and telling stories, for three minutes each, in a kind of platonic speed-dating. What you hear might surprise you!

If you attend only one event, this is the one. I have never met an Eph who did not enjoy it. Special shout out to Rachel Ko ’09, the genius behind Storytime, which was, I think, originally branded as Let Me Tell You a Story. Few students have done more to improve Williams in the last decade than she.

Quest Story Time at 12:15pm to 1:45pm

All are invited to Quest Story Time, a strong tradition at Williams in which students share their stories of what it means to be a Quest Scholar at Williams and of their journeys going forward. QuestBridge is a non-profit program that assists high-achieving, low-income and first-generation students in applying to prestigious colleges and universities in the United States. In this sharing of experiences, Quest Scholars and the audience engage in a powerful experience of reflection. The audience is not only allowed but encouraged to ask questions

I believe that there are now 200 Questbridge scholars on campus, around 10% of the student body. That is an amazing change from 10 years ago. Indeed, the rise of Questbridge is probably the biggest change in Williams admissions since the decrease in emphasis placed on athletics at the beginning of President Schapiro’s term.

Other interesting sessions include Local Borders: Engaging Our Perceptions of North Adams and Williamstown, First Generation Faculty: Experiences, Challenges, Lessons and International Narratives. The more that Claiming Williams can focus on Williams College and the people who study/teach/work/live there, the better.


Record Article on Financial Aid III

The Record article on College financial aid policy is excellent. Kudos to reporter Lauren Bender ’15! Let’s spend four days discussing it. Many of my comments will appear critical but I am aiming for constructive criticism. This is one of the best Record articles of the last several years. Day 3:

One of the programs that promotes economic diversity at the College is the College’s relationship with QuestBridge, an organization that helps match low-income students with colleges and universities. QuestBridge scholars who are “matches” have their tuition for all four years paid for by the college. There are usually around 10 or fewer matches in each class year.

Alejandra Moran-Olivas ’17 is one such match scholar. “If you’re a match scholar, you have a full ride for all four years, regardless of any changing financial need,” she said. “For people that are not matches, it just depends on their financial need.”

Whoa! I never knew that. Did you? Has it been reported in the past? In essence, Questbridge students have a much better deal than non-Questbridge students. Perhaps this helps to explain why Harvard refuses to participate in Questbridge. Bender should have pushed harder on this point, quizzing financial aid officials at Williams about the basic unfairness of such a distinction.

Consider two students, both from poor families, one admitted via Questbridge and one not. Both get full rides their freshmen year. Then both suffer the loss of a grandparent, whose modest house is sold as part of the estate for $100,000. The Questbridge student still gets a full ride sophomore year. The non-Questbridge student does not. The College expects her family to spend around 1/3 of their post tax income. So, even though they are dirt poor and expect virtually zero income in future years, the College will want a bunch of money this year.

Conclusion: Tell every poor but smart 17 year-old you know to sign up for Questbridge. It can’t hurt and it might help a great deal.

Jonathon Burne ’17 is another match scholar. He served as liason between QuestBridge and the College last year.

“The difference between a match scholar and a non-match scholar isn’t drastically different, except that the match family has to have an estimated family contribution of zero,” Burne said. “If a family can contribute even 400 dollars, they’re automatically disqualified from match. So most Quest Scholars aren’t in the situation where they will need to take out loans.”

Interesting. It would be great to get more details. Googling around, I don’t see this stipulation on the Questbridge website. (Pointers welcome.) Bender could write an article with all the under-publicized/secret details about the Questbridge process because she, obviously, has access to some excellent Williams sources. Lots of people, inside and outside of Williams, would read that article.

Moran-Olivas said that her experience with financial aid at the College has been extremely positive. The only contribution she is required to make is the $1000 required of Quest scholars each summer.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to find jobs during the summer,” she said. “I try to earn as much money as possible to pay the contribution. So far, I’ve only been at home while I work, so my mom can still support me while I work.”

We need more than anecdotes. Why not conduct a student survey?

Burne also said that his experience with financial aid had been positive, but added that the College might do more to clarify the process for low-income students.

“The financial aid process is somewhat ambiguous,” he said. “Most of us have never had to deal with these kinds of bills, or huge amounts of money. It’s complex and not very easy to understand. Maybe they could do more work to present it in a more accessible way.”

Never assume that the College, or any large institution, is your friend. The College is not your friend. The College does not, necessarily, want to make things clear or “easy to understand.” The College actively misleads you about all sorts of things, especially things related to admissions.

In this particular case, the lack of clarity could be a simple oversight. Maybe Williams wants students like Burne to better understand the process. But Williams has had decades to better explain the process. Williams is run by very smart people. Where is the web page that you would point students like Burne towards? This isn’t it.


Record Article on Financial Aid I

The Record article on College financial aid policy is excellent. Kudos to reporter Lauren Bender ’15! Let’s spend four days discussing it. Many of my comments will appear critical but I am aiming for constructive criticism. This is one of the best Record articles of the last several years. Day 1:

However, many students have expressed concern about their families’ ability to pay tuition, even with their financial aid packages from the College. So here’s how financial aid measures up.

Although the article is good, it is too short. It barely scratches the surface of how the College’s financial aid policy “measures up.” In particular, not a single (adult) critic of the College’s policies is ever quoted or, I bet, even interviewed.

“Economic diversity is the single most important commitment that the College has to the student body,” President Falk said in an interview.

Really? More important than racial diversity? Perhaps we need some measure of commitment to have an intelligent discussion? Anyway, a better reporter would have asked for some statistics at this stage in the interview. For example, how does the economic diversity of Williams today compare to the economic diversity of Williams 30 years ago? That is a hard (but very interesting!) question to answer. Some comments:

1) The college does not focus on (or keep track of?) economic diversity per se. In admissions, it assigns so-called Soc-Ec tags for students from families in which neither parent has a 4-year college degree.

2) It is very hard (impossible?) for the College to focus on economic diversity (meaning family income) during the admissions process because the Common Application does not ask applicants for that data. The College can guess family income by looking at things like high school, zip code, and parent occupation.

3) If we equate Socio-Ec tag 1 with “economic diversity” — which is not unreasonable, I think — then the College has much less commitment to economic diversity than it did a decade ago. (Background on Socio-Ec admissions here.) President Falk generally quotes a one out of seven statistic for the percentage of the class with neither parent completing college. Recall my reporting from 2009:

I e-mailed Morty with some questions, and he kindly replied that the the percentage of first generation students at Williams in the class of 2012 was 21%, a fairly dramatic increase over the 13% in the class of 2008. An 8% change represents about 43 students. So, the College replaced 43 students whose parents went to college with 43 students whose parents did not.

This is either the biggest change in Williams admissions in the past decade or a lot of hype

There is your story, Lauren Bender! Williams has gone from 21% low SES to 14% in the last 5 years! We have decreased our commitment to “economic diversity” by about one third.

Back to the Record article:

“It’s essential to maintaining the relevance of Williams to the world we live in. We’ve never made a higher investment in the history of the College in that financial aid program than we have this year.”

Maybe, depending on how you look at. Certainly the College’s financial aid budget is at record levels. But so is its budget for milk. Williams has never spent more on milk than it does today, not because it is more committed to milk now than it was in 1950, but because the price of milk has risen.

According to President Falk, the College subsidizes even the students who pay full tuition, since the College spends “well over $90,000 each year” per student. When the cost of running the College goes up, as it does each year, tuition goes up.

The College spends a lot of money on a lot of cruft. If we increased Falk’s salary by $2 million, would it be reasonable to say that the “cost” of running Williams has really increased by a $1,000 per student? No. Algebra is not the same thing as truth.

Since the 1997-98 academic year, tuition has gone up from $43,527 to $61,070 (in 2014 dollars). However, the median price for financial aid students has gone down since 1997-98, from $20,518 in 1997 to $12,571 in 2012-13 (also in 2014 dollars). At its lowest, the median price for financial aid students was $8,728 in 2008-09. The median price for aid students has continued to rise each year since then.

Hmmmmm. Where is Bender getting this data? Is she being spoon-fed by the Administration? Presumably, the College has the data for every year. So, Bender ought to get that data and share it with her readers.

“If you’re on financial aid, the actual tuition number really shouldn’t matter to you,” Falk said. “What you are asked to pay for your education depends not on our posted tuition but rather on your family’s estimated ability to contribute.”

Doubtful! I am a Falk-fanboy — and I realize that college presidents can’t be perfect truth-tellers — but this is too much. Williams should not ask any student, financial aid or otherwise, to just “Trust us!” Don’t believe me? Just ask David Weathers ’18.

Entire article below the break, in case it ever vanishes from the web.

Read more


(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor V

Fifth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

But admissions officers can visit only a small fraction of the nation’s 26,000 high schools, so they rarely see those stellar-but-isolated candidates who need to be encouraged to apply. The top schools that have managed to raise low-income enrollment say that an important factor has been collaborating with some of the nonprofit groups, like QuestBridge and the Posse Foundation, that are devoted to identifying hidden prospects, working with them in high school and connecting them to top colleges.

“stellar-but-isolated?” Give me a break. As we reviewed yesterday, the actual number of such students is de minimus, unless you (absurdly) define “stellar” as 1400 math/reading SAT scores. At Williams, scores like that are defined as “below average” for the class as a whole and “rejection worthy” for any applicant without a special attribute, mainly either black/hispanic or athletic tip.

Consider Questbridge’s own data. They included 4,773 National College Match Finalists last year. (An impressive number. Questbridge has grown into a big organization in the last decade.) But only 18% of those students had SAT scores above 1400.

Still, Questbridge is clearly playing a much larger role in the Williams admissions process. More than 12% (!) of the students admitted in to the class of 2018 were “affiliated” with Questbridge.

Does this mean I am against Questbridge? No! I love Questbridge. Any program that, at reasonable cost, brings Williams high quality applicants, especially applicants that might not have known about Williams before, is a good program. Recall our congratulations to Jonathan Wosen ’13 five years ago. Wosen was (is!) exactly the kind of student that Williams needs more of. He went on to succeed at Williams, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. (And I hope he loved his time at the College as well!) If Questbridge can bring us more applicants like Wosen, then Questbridge is worth the money.

My complaint is with those who claim that there are thousands and thousands of Jonathan Wosens out there, just waiting to be discovered and brought to Williams. There are a few. And we should try to find them. But having admission officers drive around the country to every below average high school would be a huge waste of time. And, lest you accuse me of stone heartedness, keep in mind that Williams makes very few (any?) visits to the 50% of US high schools with student bodies who average below 1,000 on the Math/Reading SAT.

And just a cynical thought on a Friday morning: At what point does Questbridge go from being a moral cause to being a sleazy racket? Back in the day, lots of poor kids applied to Williams and many were accepted . . . and no other organization took a cut of the action. Questbridge, however, now takes a cut, standing as a toll collector between Williams and its applicants. Even if someone would have applied to Williams (and been accepted) in the absence of Questbridge, if they now sign up for the service, then Williams pays Questbridge a bunch of money. (How much is unclear to me, but I vaguely recall a number like $5,000. Does anyone know?)

Again, the more AR 1 applicants who apply (and attend!) Williams, the better, whether they be rich or poor. Admissions has a budget and if Questbridge brings us such students at a reasonable price, then we should pay them. But there is a reason that Harvard doesn’t participate in Questbridge, and it isn’t because they lack the money to do so . . . or an interest in applicants like Jonathan Wosen.


(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor I

First installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

Why two weeks? Because my little bother, Stephen Field ’37, thinks this is a topic worth discussing in depth!

As the shaded quadrangles of the nation’s elite campuses stir to life for the start of the academic year, they remain bastions of privilege. Amid promises to admit more poor students, top colleges educate roughly the same percentage of them as they did a generation ago. This is despite the fact that there are many high school seniors from low-income homes with top grades and scores: twice the percentage in the general population as at elite colleges.

First, always begin by asking “What is the New York Times choosing not to write about?” In this context, the answer is: All the other metrics that 18 year-olds (and their families) differ on but which colleges, and the New York Times, don’t care about. For example, I would bet that high school students with parents that served in the military or scored about average on their SATs or currently attend Baptists congregations or are divorced are dramatically less likely than other students to apply to, be accepted by, or attend elite colleges. Does the Cathedral care? No. The Cathedral — elite academia and the prestige press — cares about race and money and gender, and maybe a few other things. Being the son of a divorced Baptist veteran of average intelligence counts for nothing, no matter how few of you there are at Williams.

Second, read the whole article. Note how constricted the range of views are: running from the left to the far left. No one who thinks, as I do — that there is nothing surprising in the under-representation of poor students, that there is little that could plausibly be done about it and that attempts to do anything are just as likely to hurt as to help — is interviewed. Does Perez-Pena know that we are out here? Does he care? Or does he view his job as weaving a cushy cocoon of ignorance for Times readers? You don’t have to agree with, say, Charles Murray or Bryan Caplan, to think that a news article ought to mention that they exist.

Ten to 15 years ago, when some elite colleges got more serious about economic diversity, there was a view that increasing financial aid could turn the dial, but “I think we were a little naïve,” said Morton O. Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, a former president of Williams College and, like Dr. Hill at Vassar, an economist specializing in the economics of higher education.

Cost remains a barrier, but so does perception, he said, adding, “It’s a psychology and sociology thing, as well as a pricing thing.”

Who is the “we” you speak of Morty? I wasn’t naive. Here is what I was writing 8 years ago:

People who see tilts and other injustices in elite admissions have a highly naive view of the possibilities once a student hits 17. These modern day Marxists have a (stupid) a priori belief that the abilities which lead to academic success at Amherst are uniformly distributed across the population. Alas, these abilities — high IQ, a love of learning, disciplined work habits — are very non-uniformly distributed. The children of people in the top half of the income distribution are much more likely to have these abilities than the children of people in the bottom half. This effect is magnified in the top and bottom income deciles.

Smart people have smart children because intelligence like height is largely inherited. People who love learning have children who love learning because they teach them to do the same, both directly and via example. You can bet that children who are read to by their parents each day are much more likely to end up at Amherst than children who are not so fortunate. Hard-working people have hard-working children because these parents make their children work hard, thereby teaching them the value of hard work, of ambition and striving.

Now, it turns out that high IQ, a love of learning and hard work — for shorthand, let’s call these attributes “merit” — are also correlated with wealth. Or, rather, it is unlikely that someone blessed with these three attributes will end up in the bottom 25% of the income distribution.

But people like Marx seem blind to this reality. They really want to believe that there are thousands of undiscovered gems lying in the bottom income quartile, just waiting for open-minded souls (like Marx) to discover them and, Professor Higgins-like, transform them into polished stones.

Tony Marx was the president of Amherst at the time. He, and other naifs like Morty and Cappy Hill ’76, thought that they could meaningfully increase the percentage of poor students at places like Williams without meaningfully decreasing the quality of the student body. Alas, you can’t.

It isn’t a “psychology and sociology thing”, much less a “pricing thing.” It is a reality thing.

If you are upset that I haven’t provided enough evidence for these claims, have no worries! I have nine more days of posts all queued up . . .

In case it disappears from the web, the entire article is below the break.

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Welcome to Early Decision Ephs!

Welcome to the 200+ applicants who were just officially accepted into the Williams College class of 2015 via Early Decision. (Successful Questbridge applicants found out two weeks ago and some athletic tips were promised spots by Williams coaches months earlier.)

College Confidential provides a useful discussion thread. Clicking around the usernames and their past posts — especially ones entitled “Chance Me” — will illustrate just how insanely competitive Williams admissions has become.

Openbook is a simple tool for searching Facebook updates. Here are all the recent mentions of Williams College. As of this writing, there are only two acceptances. (Decisions only became available at 8:00 PM.) Given the central role that Facebook plays in teen-age life, I expect that number to increase dramatically in the next day or two.

Any questions for the EphBlog community?


Afford To Retire

An anonymous professor (call him Professor X) writes:

Just saw you want to hack into my salary, Dave. One aspect of the situation you may or may not have thought of (no one mentions it in comments that I saw): what hit the endowment also of course hit retirement funds of faculty members, so the question arises of when (if ever) a possibly quite significant number of faculty now in their 50s and 60s will be able to afford to retire. I’m thinking, for me, never, especially if I’m flatlining or worse on my salary, and I know others in this age bracket who are thinking the same thing. Is it good for Williams if lots of us hang on into our 70s? Our 80s? Our 90s? With no new faculty slots for youngsters, because we aren’t giving ours up? As one colleague put it, “Well, they can freeze my salary forever, and I won’t be able to retire, and they can start cutting my salary, and I won’t be able to retire….” The demographics could get ugly.


1) X is not the same anonymous professor who described visiting professor hiring procedures. EphBlog’s sources are legion.

2) Previous discussions of faculty salary here and here. And, yes, I have been writing on this topic for more than 5 years.

3) I have worried for years, as have other higher ed watchers, about the intersection of tenure and the end of mandatory retirement ages for faculty. Assume that you are, say (pdf), Lawrence Kaplan ($223,184) or Stephen Sheppard ($220,610) or Jay Pasachoff ($212,472). (Annual salary/benefits in parentheses.) Just what incentive do you have to retire? Sure, it might be nice to have some more free time, to not have to teach all those classes. But, if your savings are down, it sure is tempting to stay for another year or two or ten. After all, once you retire, you can’t come back. You lose the option of earning that fat salary.

4) When I have investigated this issue in the past, I have been told that Williams has never had a problem with faculty not retiring when they “should.” The College, by offering various incentives, has been able to get professors to retire when it wants them to. I just worry that this won’t always be true and, moreover, that it could become a big problem very fast. Right now, if a professor tries to stay on, Williams can point out (correctly!) that this just isn’t done. It isn’t the Williams way. Everyone before him retired at the appropriate time and so should he. But, as soon as one or two professors refuse to go, this sort of moral suasion via community standards disappears.

5) What should be done? First, end life-time tenure. Going forward, an award of tenure should be for an explicit time period: 25 years or however many years until age 65 or whatever. This, obviously, won’t solve the problem in the near term, but trustees like Greg Avis should always be thinking about positioning Williams 50 years from now. Second, bribe current faculty members into, voluntarily, swapping their current life-time tenure for the same fixed period contract. An extra $5,000 or $10,000 per year now (along with the (mostly) built-in raises to come) is probably more attractive to the typical associate professor than some hypothetical keep-teaching-even-though-Williams-doesn’t-want-me option to be used decades in the future.

6) If this professor really wants to protect his salary, then I would urge him to take the realities of the budget crisis much more seriously. The reason that Williams does not have enough money to pay him what he wants (and deserves!) is because it is wasting so much money on other stuff. Start here.

I would Cancel the Bolin Fellowships (200k) Close the Boston Investment Office (1 million), End all one or two year positions (1 million), Cancel Questbridge (200k), End Green Spending (2 million), Close the Office of Campus Life (200k), Stop Giving to Local Charity, (750k), Make Significant Cuts in High Salaries (2.5 million), Cut the Budget for WCMA (1.4 million), Cut Visiting Professors (500k) and Cut Faculty Benefits (200k). Total savings of about $10 million.

The best way to avoid cuts in faculty salaries is to push for cuts in other areas. As it is, all (?) that the Administration and Trustees hear from the faculty is a demand to not cut anything. The sooner you and your colleagues cancel the Bolin, for starters, the sooner they will take your opinions more seriously.

7) If I were a Williams professor, I would never retire. I would love teaching so much that they would have to drag my cold dead body out of the classroom.

8) I thank Professor X for sharing his views with us. The more that these important issues are discussed throughout the Williams community, the better.


Williams Ranks #4 in Forbes Rankings (beating Harvard)

In its second annual college ranking list, Forbes Magazine ranked Williams #4, ahead of Harvard (#5), Yale (#9) and Amherst (#8). Here is how the Forbes rankings are calculated, according to an article on the Forbes web site:

To our way of thinking, a good college is one that meets student needs. While some college rankings are based partly on school reputation as evaluated by college administrators and on the amount of money spent, we focus on things which directly concern incoming students: Will my courses be interesting and rewarding? Will I get a good job after I graduate? Is it likely I will graduate in four years? Will I incur a ton of debt getting my degree?

To answer these questions, the staff at CCAP gathered data from a variety of sources. They based 25% of the rankings on 4 million student evaluations of courses and instructors, as recorded on the Web site Another 25% is based on post-graduate success, equally determined by enrollment-adjusted entries in Who’s Who in America, and by a new metric, the average salaries of graduates reported by An additional 20% is based on the estimated average student debt after four years. One-sixth of the rankings are based on four-year college graduation rates–half of that is the actual graduation rate, the other half the gap between the average rate and a predicted rate based on characteristics of the school. The last component is based on the number of students or faculty, adjusted for enrollment, who have won nationally competitive awards like Rhodes Scholarships or Nobel Prizes.

When I read the readers’ comments about Williams, I was very impressed to see a Princeton grad conceding Williams’ superiority:

Posted by MathTrader | 08/13/09 12:53 PM EDT
One more misconception that I’d like to point out: the “elitist jock school that’s easier to get into than the Ivies.” Read: “New England Safety School.”

The elitism comment is off by about 20 years. Like every other school in the North East, Williams used to be a country club school. Like every other top school, that’s not really even an argument these days. Every well respected school has a very diverse student body (I know Williams takes a higher proportion of Questbridge minority scholars than almost any other participant school), and about 50% of students on full financial aid. Get real.

Yes Williams has a large proportion of student athletes, but there’s a big difference between “football meathead” and “insanely disciplined Division 3 Crew/Track athlete.” From what I can tell, so many Williams kids play sports because their motivated personality, which also led to their academic success, influences their extracurricular discipline.

The best one is admissions. I’ll be honest, I was on the Williams waiting list after getting into H/P/Y regular decision. The acceptance rate is misleading until you consider how self selected the Williams applicant pool must be. No one applies to Williams for the name, they apply because they did their research and want an unmatched undergraduate challenge that’s hidden in the middle of the mountains. In short, they want to be unparalleled thinkers, not Ivy League graduates.

As my name suggests, I’m a trader with an advanced degree in Math. Without fail, a Williams grad has been everywhere I’ve studied or worked. In every case, they’ve been the person of most envy and respect for their knowledge, ability to learn, and drive. When we discussed this ranking yesterday at work, one of the other traders on my algorithmic desk looked up and said “I’m pretty convinced that Williams(/Amherst) is the only school that’s actually worth the respect it gets.” Even having turned it down, I gotta agree (but still..go Pri

Any thoughts?


Article on Jonathan Wosen ’13

Jonathan Wosen


For seven years, Jonathan Wosen has been commuting 45 minutes from his Oak Park home to the Preuss UCSD campus, where he’s about to be valedictorian and the first in his family to attend college. […]

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ABCP Summary

Thanks to all for participating in our ACBP discussion. Again, this was a listing of all the items that could be cut from the Williams budget which a) Did not involve lay-offs, b) Did not touch financial aid and c) Resulted in at least a $200,000 annual savings to the operating budget. We reviewed 14 items over the last two weeks. I am unaware of any other items that meet these criteria. Cost-cutting is hard. Let us know if we left anything out.

Below are some minor updates, along with my recommendations.
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10: Close Williams-In-Oxford

Not an April’s Fool joke, alas.

I don’t want this to be closed, but it is a big ticket item that could, in theory, be shuttered relatively easily. The College could even just mothball the property for a few years while retaining the option of opening it up again. How much does the College spend on Williams-in-Oxford? I don’t know. We own (?) the building, so the major cost is not in the budget. There was some data on this in the controversy over Williams in New York but not much. Main info is an obscure reference to a $2,330 subsidy per student, per semester.

As a rough guess, assume that the total costs that might be saved include tuition for 25 or so students ($38,500 x 25) plus the subsidy ($2,330 x 25 x 2 semesters). You don’t save board since Williams needs to feed those students anyway. Room is mixed since, with more students on campus, you will eventually need to work on the housing stock but, in the short term, you can just create more doubles. (Sorry sophomores!) Theoretically, the College should offer more classes and hire more professors but, in the short term, it can just stick these students into the classes it already offers.

Rough guess: Canceling Williams-in-Oxford saves us about a million dollars a year.

Until now, I have been comfortable with most of the cuts on the list. Many of the items (Bolin, local charity) are items that I have always been against. (Not that they are evil but that the College should spend that money elsewhere.) Other items (Boston Investment Office, Campus Life) are things that I never liked and have grown less fond of over time. Others (WCMA (or at least half its budget), Questbridge, 1-2 year positions) are spending that I think is most excellent, but which I can imagine giving up because of the depth of the crisis.

But even all those cuts only add up to a few (5?) million dollars per year, at best. And that’s not enough!

If the Trustees do not insist on those cuts (or similarly sized ones), they are not doing their job. But, at this stage, we are starting to cut muscle. Does Williams need to make this cut now? I don’t know.

Yet all those who are aghast at this idea should provide specifics as to where they would cut $1 million from the operating budget.


11: Eat the poor

Although our suggestions for cost-cutting at Williams have been, on the whole, reasonable and well thought-out, I am afraid that they don’t go far enough. Are we really going to solve the structural problems plaguing colleges like Williams with a little nip here, a tuck there? I am afraid that if we are to be really serious about finding a way out of this economic crisis, something a little more drastic is called for. It’s all well and good to cut off support to the local hospital and to stop actively recruiting poorer students. But, in spite of our best efforts to keep them out or to ensure that they die of alcohol poisoning, some poorer students will undoubtedly remain at Williams, and supporting such students with financial aid is very expensive.

Therefore, I would propose that we at least seriously consider serving poor students for dinner. Converting these “human resources” into “food” has tremendous long-term synergies. It would be a huge cost savings for Dining Services, would alleviate pressures on the financial aid budget, and free up some extra rooms to house truly deserving students – those who are paying full-fare. Such food would also be locally-sourced and would reduce Williams’ overall carbon footprint, so the environmentalists should be on board. I have been assured by an economist of my acquaintance, that a young healthy freshman at 18 years old is a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that he/she will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout. We could also expand the program to include poorer town residents, which would reduce our need to fund local charities.

Now I know this is not going to be a “popular” idea, especially with the PC-niks who frequent this site, but sometimes the best ideas aren’t popular, and sometimes we have to face the hard, unpleasant truth: we must eat the poor, or we will have to close down the college. Those are the ONLY two options available. There are no other alternatives.

Now, I want you to note that I am not actually advocating for cannibalism per se, merely throwing this out there for contemplation – I hope that we can discuss this in a serious, respectful manner, without ad hominem attacks. If you disagree, please suggest an alternative course of action that would be equally effective and delicious.


Join us!

In the last couple of days, I’ve heard much whining both on and off-line about David Kane’s return to EphBlog. A recent commenter posts in this thread:

The one and only value that I get out of this site is updates on Williams. I could easily do without the Kaneblog affliction for casting out all the poor and minority students and professors and his weird and possibly unhealthy obsession with Erin Burnett and other Eph-related women like alumni wives. (And no, I don’t think it would be better if we had more female bloggers here to drool over Eph men.) […]

Isn’t there a way to start a different Williams alumni online community, one that is still separate but with saner, less regressive bloggers? Someone tell me that there are enough progressive alums who care about Williams to do this…

Whether or not this is fair to David (I don’t think it is), I think this would be a good opportunity to remind our readers that, yes, there is a way to create an online alumni community with a more progressive, less-Neanderthal bent. You can do it right here, in fact.

Look, EphBlog is largely what you make of it. If you are tired of Kane’s posts, or you just want to read about topics that you care about, then join us as an author. All you have to do is write to us (eph AT ephblog DOT com) from a working email address, and tell us a little bit about who you are. It would help if you have some kind of Williams connection, but we are not picky. Our current authors include parents, townies, current students, alumni, and faculty/staff. You can even blog under a pseudonym if you want (we don’t encourage this, but it’s an option). I will send you the details you need to log in and author a blog post, and then you will be free to make David Kane’s posts disappear down the front page. Are you up to the challenge?


ACBP Items

Wish that the Ad Hoc Committee on College Budget Priorities would be more transparent in its deliberations? Me too! So, let’s pretend that we are on the Committee and come up with a listing of all the big budget cuts that Williams might plausibly make. Without access to more details, it is impossible for us to make exact recommendations, but reasonable guesses as to cost savings are not difficult. I offer my own thoughts on each item and encourage readers to do the same. I want to list all the big budget items from the College’s operating budget (leaving aside capital projects like Stetson/Sawyer and Weston).

Let’s focus on things which cost at least $200,000 per year. For now, I want to take the Administration at its word and assume that no lay-offs or cuts in financial aid are under consideration. Each day for the next two weeks, I will post a new item at noon. (Thanks to several readers in previous threads for some of these suggestions.) As a preview, here is the full list: end all one or two year positions, close the Williams College Museum of Art, cancel the Bolin Fellowships, close the Boston investment office, close Williams-in-Oxford, cancel Questbridge, eliminate football, end NCAA play-off participation, close the Office of Campus Life, no more green spending, stop giving to local charity, and significant cuts in high salaries.

Because it is spring break, I may not have the time to add all the background information and links that I should. Apologies! Readers are invited to do so in the comments. Please save your comments on the merits of the items listed above until the appropriate day. Please add as a comment to this post any major item that you think I have left out.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, this is a list of “all the big budget cuts that Williams might plausibly make,” not just a list of all the budget cuts that I would make. Please indicate in the comments if you have any additions.


Congratulations to The Newest Ephs

Several hundred early decision applications received this good news, leading to this letter.


Congratulations to all. Comments:

1) Thanks to the anonymous parent for sending in these images. Future historians will thank you!

2) 616 early decision applicants is a record. Recall our debate over whether or not the financial crisis would lead to a drop in demand for a Williams education. So far, there is no evidence for that drop. I predict that we will see no decrease in regular applicants, regular yield or average student quality. Demand for a Williams education is largely recession proof.

3) The initial forecast was for 580 early applications. Are most/all of the extra 36 Questbridge?

4) 550 is a bigger target for the first year class than the normal 538 or so. Have the Trustees approved this increase in the student population? I don’t like it.

5) No smiley face?! Bring back Phil Smith ’58 ’55!



Exceptional Kids

Ronit’s comments on this admissions thread merit further discussion. Read the original post for context.

[Amherst President Tony] Marx could easily achieve his goal of greater equality by admitting fewer athletic tips from privileged prep schools, and fewer legacies, and giving a few of these slots to exceptional kids from the inner city.

First, many/most tips are not from “privileged prep schools.” In fact, football players tend to come from families with below average income (for Williams/Amherst as a whole). Second, it is true that if Amherst got rid of its 66 tips, it could replace them with 66 “poor” students with better academic rankings than the tips they replaced. Amherst teams would then lose most (60%? 80%?) of their games. Now, I suspect that Ronit and I are in agreement that, from the current status quo, Williams/Amherst should place less emphasis on athletics, but that is not the debate we are having today. Marx has never proposed cutting the number of tips.

Third, as I have demonstrated ad nauseum, legacies are a red herring in this debate. Even if you put zero weight on legacy status, the vast majority of legacy students who are at Williams today would still have been admitted. Fourth, if this debate were really about “exceptional kids from the inner city,” then you might have a point. But most of the “poor” students that Marx is admitting do not come from the “inner city” and almost none of them attend lousy inner city high schools. And just how “exceptional” are they?

Consider Ashley Armato.

But financial aid alone isn’t enough to boost low-income enrollments, many colleges have found. Amherst has hired more admissions staff to do outreach, and it pays for several hundred low-income students a year to visit campus. It also works with nonprofit groups such as QuestBridge, which identifies talented applicants from low-income backgrounds.

Current Amherst students from low-income backgrounds can earn their work-study money by mentoring high school counterparts through the college-application and financial-aid process, whether or not they want to apply to Amherst.

Ashley Armato worked as a mentor as a student at Amherst, where she recently graduated and started a one-year job in the admissions office.

I would not use Armato as an example if she were a pre-frosh, but since she is a college graduate (albeit Amherst) , I hope that few will be offended by using her to make the issue more concrete. (And I have no idea what her academic credentials were.) Ronit thinks that this is an argument about “exceptional kids from the inner city.” If that were true, if Amherst were accepting low-income students with 1350 SATs from (lousy) inner city high schools in place of students with 1500 SATs from Choate, that would be one thing. For Ronit’s case to be plausible, someone like Armato should come from a family with low income (bottom 10%? certainly bottom 25%) and go to a bad high school. But, even before I looked, I doubted that this described Armato. And, sure enough, it doesn’t.

As the daughter of a firefighter and a maid, neither of whom went to college, she understood the challenges facing those she mentored. Students often started off assuming they could afford only community colleges, but she was able to explain financial aid and help them expand their options. She also reassured a lot of parents, sometimes speaking with them in Spanish.

Does the daughter of a firefighter and a maid count as poor? Does someone who attended Mount Sinai High School suffer from a below-average high school education? No! After five years, NYC firefighters make $86,518. Mount Sinai is a fine public high school, with a full complement of AP courses.

Again, for all I know Armato was an AR 1. If so, she would have gotten in (probably) even if her father were an investment banker and she went to Exeter. Yet the whole point of Marx’s proposal is to give an extra advantage to applicants like Armato. The key is that Ronit describes this as letting in “exceptional kids from the inner city.” That’s not what the program actually does. Don’t believe me? Believe Amherst.

Bringing in more low-income kids would require added compromise. To meet Marx’s 25% goal, Amherst would have to take more threes [on a 1-7 scale], says Parker, meaning those who may have straight As but SATs as low as 1360. Even though Amherst already does so for minorities, legacies, and athletes, faculty members are worried. “This could be a radical departure that fundamentally changes the character of our institution,” warns physics professor David Hall, who heads the Faculty Committee on Admissions & Financial Aid.

Again, if we are talking about a kid in a lousy high school and from a family making in the bottom 25% of the income distribution, then there is certainly an argument for admitting her and rejecting the investment banker’s daughter from Milton with 1500 (and better grades). Yet Amherst (and Williams) already does that. But that advantage does not produce enough, in Marx’s opinion, poor families. So, he wants to give similar advantages to students from families with above average incomes who attend top quartile high schools.

Had enough? I haven’t even gotten started!
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Stop The Presses

It’s Monday night and the Record comes out on Wednesday, but this needs to be the lead story.

Williams College has responded to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee with information it asked for on the college’s endowment, fees, and financial aid.

The committee requested the information from the 136 colleges and universities in the country with endowments of $500 million or more. Williams’ endowment as of last June 30 was $1.89 billion.

The response from President Morton Owen Schapiro (pdf) stressed the college’s focus on providing “the finest possible liberal arts education that is accessible to students of all economic backgrounds” and pointed out that Williams admits students without regard to their ability to pay and promises all admitted students the financial aid needed for them to attend for four years.

This is one of the most important stories of the year. The report provides a rare look at the underlying data and — Surprise! — validates several of the points that I have been making for the last 5 years. See below for more details. And, if you are a Record reporter, drop me a line. I give good quote. (And don’t forget these questions.)

1) I don’t have time to do a thorough analysis of the pdf but there are a lot of details here worth pondering.

2) We can see that there has been a dramatic transfer of wealth from Williams to its students. See page 11. Total spending on financial aid has gone from $12.9 million to $31.1 million. Part of that is caused by inflation and by the rise in tuition. But the overwhelming cause is that the College is handing more money to more students, independent of family income. (There is no evidence that Williams students have become poorer over the last 10 years.) Why this sudden jump on aid? Is Morty just a nicer guy than Hank Payne? No! Competition among elite colleges has driven this wealth transfer. In just a decade, Williams has foregone around $15 million dollars, money that it used to demand that students/families beg, borrow or steal. If Williams had not done so, then hundreds of Ephs would be going elsewhere. Start here for previous commentary.

What’s important about this report is that it is the first time we have seen the raw dollar figures. Also, there is enough supplementary data, that we (read: Record reporters) can disentangle the effects of inflation, fee/tuition hikes, and changing family income/wealth. But the basic points seems obvious. Williams is significantly cheaper now then it was ten years ago from almost all non-millionaires.

3) We can see that there is no evidence that the socio-economic diversity of Williams has increased in the last decade and some circumstantial evidence that it has stayed the same. Note that the (true!) fact that Williams is giving more money to all sorts of students tells us little about whether or not the socioeconomic diversity of the student body has increased. For example, if all students were millionaires, and the College handed everyone a $100 on the first day of classes, then, Presto!, everyone would be receiving financial aid from the College.

The circumstantial evidence comes on page 12 in the table of the “Parental Income of Aided Students.” The College likes to trumpet the fact that it is giving more money to wealthier families. So, the 95th percentile of family income among aided families has risen. Fine. That is interesting. But that tells us little about the change in the distribution of family income among all families at Williams. (Actually, we should be able to combine this data with information on the number of aided students, but ignore that complexity for now.) More importantly, we can see that the 5th percentile has stayed largely constant for the last 10 years. Williams is letting in about the same number of very poor students today as it did 10 years ago. So, on that measure, there has been no meaningful increase in socioeconomic diversity, despite the endless praise of Questbridge.

Recall from Lindsey Taylor’s ’05 thesis that this data probably overstates the number of poor students at Williams. Because of divorce, retirements and other special situations, many of these families with very low income this year are actually not poor at all.

The key question for a Record reporter becomes: What is the 10th, 25th and 50th percentile for family income among aided students over the last 10 years? (Since students not on financial aid do not submit income statements, the College does not have data on them.) The problem with the 95th percentile is that it is changing as the College becomes more generous. But everyone in the 50th percentile was getting aid 10 years ago as well. And, with about half the students on financial aid, the 50th percentile of aided students represents the 25th percentile for all students.

I bet that the 50th percentile of family income for aided students has stayed mostly constant for the last decade and that, therefore, Williams is no more socioeconomically diverse today than it was in the late 1990s. In fact, you could easily take that same analysis back into the 1980s and, I bet, find the same thing. Now, I have no problem with that result. I just don’t like to see Williams imply something that is not true.

More commentary later. What interesting points do readers see in the report?

UPDATE: I just noticed that that table includes the median, i.e., the 50th percentile for aided families. So, in 1998 the median aided family was number 426 in the 2000 or so Williams families ranked by income from lowest to highest — 50th percentile of 853 and assuming that all poor families apply for aid. That family made $63,791. In 2007, we know that family number 495 (50th percentile of 990) made $72,293. The next step is to account for inflation and make some assumptions about the income distribution of families at Williams. But just consider the data we have.

  426 495
1998 64k  
2008   72k

It sure seems plausible that family number 495 might have had an income of around 72k in 1998 and, conversely, family 426 might have had an income in the neighborhood of 64k in 2008. (And, obviously, these are different families each year.) In anything, I would not be surprised if family 426 had a higher income than 64k in 2008, i.e., that the 20th percentile in family income at Williams has risen in the last decade. It is an empirical question.

Yet despite the endless bragging by Williams that socioeconomic diversity has increased, there is no evidence for that claim. If anything, we have good reason for not believing it.

But maybe there are more billionaires at Williams. Socioeconomic diversity has increased, just at the high end. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

UPDATE II: In fact, with information about the mean and the number of students (along with data on the 5th, 50th and 95th percentiles), we should be able to figure this out exactly. Surely there is a smart reader who can provide the solution in the comments.

To be precise: Assume that all non-rich students seek aid. What is the family income of the 400th poorest family (about the 20th percentile) at Williams over the last 10 years? (For extra credit, provide confidence intervals for your answers.) My intuition is that this number is largely constant. Williams is just as much a rich kid’s school today as it was a decade ago.

UPDATE III: Here is the assignment for students in STAT 201. For each year, fit a lognormal distribution to the data. Or perhaps there is an analytic solution we can use that just relies on the mean and median? Then, estimate where the 400th ranked family falls in that distribution by looking for the 400/number-of-families percentile in that year. Using random draws to create confidence intervals for the estimate for each year. Plot the year-to-year number and associated confidence intervals.

UPDATE IV: I am having so much fun, I can’t stop! Because the lognormal distribution is hard and there is not much skew in the data, I just went with a normal distribution and played around with some plausible values for the start and end years. Here are two lines of R code:

> qnorm(c(0.05, 400/853, 0.5, 0.95), mean = 65, sd = 36)
[1] 5.8 62.2 65.0 124.2
> qnorm(c(0.05, 400/990, 0.5, 0.95), mean = 79, sd = 43)
[1] 8.3 68.6 79.0 149.7

It is obvious that the normal distribution does not fit that well in the tails. But it doesn’t fit too poorly either. Moreover, since we are interested in data that is close to the median anyway, it is not that important what happens in the tails.

The key conclusion is that, while the number of families getting aid has risen (853 to 990 or up 16%), the median income of those families has risen faster (65k to 79k or up 22%) so the wealth of the family at the 20th percentile of all Williams families has risen (about 10%) as well. If anything, Williams is less socioeconomically diverse than it was a decade ago.

UPDATE V: Whoops! I should have used the median numbers from that table, not the means. Sorry! Basic conclusion doesn’t change. Perhaps a kind reader could redo the R analysis.


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