Many Reedies consider their college experience priceless, but it does, of course, come at a price—$43,530 for tuition, fees, and room and board. That figure doesn’t include books, travel, or other expenses, and represents a 53 percent increase in the past decade.
To make a Reed education affordable for the 50-plus percent of the student body unable to pay the full price, the college will spend $14.5 million on financial aid this year, with the average individual aid package totaling $29,950, most of that in the form of grants from the college. All told, financial aid will eat up 20 percent of the annual operating budget.
President Colin Diver contends that Reed’s style of education requires an academically talented, intellectually ambitious, and socio-economically diverse student body, and financial aid is crucial to achieving all three. “This is not top-down education,” he says. “[Reed] wouldn’t work if the students weren’t also educating each other.”
This summer Reed successfully completed a $20 million fundraising initiative to support financial aid, meaning that there will be more students like Joe Kliegman attending in coming years. But—and this may come as a surprise—not every qualified applicant who needs help paying the bill is admitted. The reason reveals a stark reality for Reed and many of its peer liberal arts colleges: financial aid money runs out.
For the vast majority of applicants, Reed does in fact admit students “need-blind”: the admission staff considers qualifications only and turns a blind eye to financial status. If you’re good enough to get in, Reed commits to meeting your financial need, as determined by a customized federal formula that assesses a family’s assets and income.
But for a small slice of borderline applicants, Reed can’t afford to be need-blind. In these cases, the college factors in a student’s ability to pay when deciding which letter goes out in late April.
The bottom line? Every year, a small number of applicants are rejected because they require financial aid, their spots taken by slightly less-qualified but wealthier students whose families can pay the full $40,000+ annual bill.
“That’s what kills me,” says Dean of the Faculty Peter Steinberger. While the difference in qualifications between these have- and have-not applicants may be very slight, he says, “it still eats me alive.”