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Need-Aware or Need-Beware?

I’m writing in response “The Financial Aid Quandary” [Summer 2006], to report a little on how I came to be a Reed student and why I believe Reed’s commitment should be to a need-based aid policy.

I grew up in Southern Arizona. As a high school senior I knew I wanted to go to Reed but my father would not allow me to apply. I applied to the University of Arizona, where I was admitted and received a music scholarship. I also applied to Stanford University, where I was admitted but received no aid. My father was a maintenance man for Maricopa County. Our family did not have the money to pay for Stanford, even had my father believed there was some usefulness in such an education. He suggested that if I wished to attend college, why not go to a local community college where tuition at the time was about $50 per semester. In his view, one college was pretty much like another.

I remember clearly my rage, not so much at my father as at Stanford, a place that to me was both a beacon of intellectual possibility and a bastion of privilege. I wrote to Stanford asking why they thought sending an admission letter to a student who had no means to pay the fees was actually admission. They didn’t answer. I attended the University of Arizona for a year and applied to transfer to Reed. I was admitted to Reed and against my father’s wishes attended for three years, graduating in 1972. My father refused to help pay for Reed. I would never have been able to attend college but for Reed’s willingness and ability to pay almost all the costs of my attendance.

I don’t know where I fell in the admission office’s ranking of students. I suspect I came in somewhere near the bottom—I had good, but not exceptional, test scores that placed me pretty low in my entering group. I was and remain deeply grateful for Reed’s willingness to take a chance on me and for its belief that all admitted students can do the work, that some of the students aren’t more wanted than others.

Your article states that in the new need-aware policy, the best candidates are admitted first, and these receive aid according to need. The article goes on to say, “For those who are left, Reed also considers their ability to pay.” That statement was very disturbing to me, as it implies a hierarchy of Reed students by both perceived intellectual ability and ability to pay. I was so ill-prepared for Reed. My high school struggled just to keep kids in school and graduate them. I was not taught that the life of the mind meant much of anything. And suddenly, I was at Reed among people who thought it was okay to take ideas seriously. My first semester was a nightmare, a revelation, and, strangely, a pleasure.

I don’t care what’s crying out for funds—more library facilities, a performing arts complex, faculty salaries—Reed can only be Reed with a commitment to a need-blind admission policy. If that means doubling the portion of the endowment devoted to financial aid, then double it.

Your article also states that when you get down to the students who will come under the need-aware policy—the less desirable applicants—that the difference between the rejected and accepted applicants “. . . is slight—about three-tenths of a point in high school GPA.” I don’t care how slight the difference is, it’s the wrong way to decide who gets in. Whatever complicated grid the admission office uses to ascertain who will be admitted and who will be rejected, the moment you admit a student who fell lower in your ranking system than one you denied, you’ve abandoned what Reed meant to me and what attending it has allowed me to become. If I were a student now, I’d say that the need-aware admission policy is a violation of the honor principle. As an aside, I’d be grateful if Reed didn’t use euphemisms such as “need-aware.” I think the policy could more accurately be called discriminatory or expedient, or maybe hard-nosed.

I see high school students every day who would never apply to Reed because of the cost. No matter how many times I tell them that the pricier schools provide more aid, they are scared. They can’t believe they could ever get that kind of money together. Just say it out loud a few times—$45,000 a year to attend college.

I don’t care what’s crying out for funds—more library facilities, a performing arts complex, faculty salaries—Reed can only be Reed with a commitment to a need-blind admission policy. If that means doubling the portion of the endowment devoted to financial aid, then double it. I’m surprised that Reed wouldn’t find such doubling to be a worthy challenge. And if need-blind means that you would attract “more needy applicants,” that would be great. The ability to admit more students who can’t afford Reed’s tuition would be one more reason for Reed to take pride in its role in American education.

David Romtvedt ’72
Buffalo, Wyoming

As I read your article, I found myself thinking, “Why does this cause so much pain?” As we all know, society does not reward each person equally when in comes to income. Not everyone can afford the same type of house or car. Why should it be such a surprise that there are students who cannot afford to attend Reed College? I realize that a Reed education is somewhat unique, but I do not believe that it is the “be all, end all” of colleges where a student can obtain a good education.

Dean Steinberger is quoted as saying, “It eats me alive” that there are some students who are turned down in favor of students whose parents can afford to pay the full tuition, but who may not be as well-qualified. To me, this is just a fact of life and reflects what happens in society at large as Reed graduates enter “life after Reed.”

The accompanying article about Dr. William Breall ’51, “Finding a Way to Say Thank You,” reminded me a lot of my own situation. I graduated from Franklin High in Portland, and although my parents encouraged me to attend college, they told me that they could not contribute any money toward my tuition. I was able to save enough from my summer jobs to pay my tuition and I worked part time during the school year to earn spending money.

. . . students can obtain an excellent education at many institutions besides Reed, so I really can’t get “worked up” by the fact that some students are denied entrance because of lack of finances.

While I was a student at Reed, the only students I knew of who received financial aid were those on academic scholarships. I believe that I had applied for a scholarship but I assumed the reason I was denied was that my grades were not good enough. My family’s finances certainly should have made me eligible for aid. I went on to attend the University of Oregon Medical School, now OHSU, and I had to work during the summers to pay my tuition at medical school.

For the past 25 to 30 years, the tuition charged by most elite private colleges has far exceeded what students could earn, and they have had to rely on financial aid, student loans, or family finances. I think that this is unfortunate, but when private college tuition has risen faster than inflation, I don’t think that there is any way to avoid this situation.

I am sure that the students who have been “denied” a Reed education because of finances have probably attended state colleges or universities, and have secured a very good education. Our son graduated from Willamette University, and our daughter attended Willamette for three years and graduated from Warner-Pacific College.

Had my wife and I not been able to afford the tuition at these schools, we would have sent both of our children to the U of O or Oregon State.

I certainly believe that students can obtain an excellent education at many institutions besides Reed, so I really can’t get “worked up” by the fact that some students are denied entrance because of lack of finances. I see nothing wrong with the “need-aware” policy.

John W. Thompson ’55
Lake Oswego, Oregon

In their article “Socioeconomic Status, Race/Ethnicity and Selective College Admissions,” Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose state that “74 percent of the students at the top 146 highly selective colleges came from families in the top quarter of the SES [socioeconomic status] scale (as measured by combining family income and the education and occupations of the parents), just 3 percent came from the bottom SES quartile, and roughly 10 percent came from the bottom half of the SES scale.”

This striking under-representation of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds in elite colleges has led some schools to undertake special measures to change the student mix. True, the leaders among these, Amherst and Harvard (under Larry Summers), have much more money with which to recruit and enroll disadvantaged applicants, but there are plenty of rich schools that make no such effort.

With this background, I was not surprised to see that there is no effort at Reed to recruit socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants. After all, Reed has chosen to go ahead with only a sprinkling of African American and Latino students, preferring to uphold its traditions over making concessions to racial and ethnic minorities.

The possibility of a different path was demonstrated in the late 1960s when money from the Rockefeller Foundation led to a brief upsurge in African American enrollment. But Reed chose not to spend its untied money to continue such a program.

It is honest of Reed’s administrators to admit that they favor children of the rich, but the position is timid. Why not get all you can? I suggest that you set aside some spots in the entering class and auction them to the highest bidders.

Reed never has pursued imaginative, progressive policies to enhance diversity. It should be ashamed of itself for now admitting to have taken off its blindfold only to better spot and snag the children of the rich.

Bernard Wasow ’65
Washington, D.C.

The intersection of two stories in two issues—calligraphy [Letters, Spring 2006] and financial aid—prompts me to write. I was one of those admitted to Reed under what I now learn was the “come anyway” policy: I was offered financial aid—after my first year. I compared that proposition to the full ride offered by a large Midwestern university.

What made my decision? That university sent me a computer card labeled “permit to register.” Reed sent a calligraphed invitation to attend. Today we’d call it “branding.” To me it spoke volumes. I scraped together the money and came. I am glad I had the option.

Robert Grott ’72
Corbett, Oregon

Although Reed’s conference experience many times punished me for not having done the reading, I am not about to reform a bad habit now. I admit that I did not read the article on financial aid, but I did manage to get through the photo captions.

Let’s see, the captions identified the dean of admission, an assistant dean, and another assistant dean, and then another assistant dean, and still another assistant dean, and finally a director of financial aid.

Thank you for explaining why it costs so much today to go to college without forcing me to read the article.

Paul G. Spitzer ’59
Seattle, Washington

scroungers imageScrounging for gourmets

“Au temps des jupes-culottes, j’étais cool à l’école
Mangeais à la cantine, y avait pas de vache folle.”
(“Les Temps Changent,” MC Solaar)

“Pleasantly shocked” does not understate my reaction to the picture that accompanied “Scrounging for Dollars” [Reunions coverage, Summer 2006]. Times have obviously changed, and apparently much for the better. My recollections of scrounging consist of eating somebody else’s cold, lumpy, half-eaten mound of mashed potatoes and side of peas off a messy tray, with rarely the opportunity to obtain my recommended daily allowance of protein, and I risked catching Mad Cow Disease in order to fortify myself for the long, hard trek up to the top of Woodstock to my apartment, where I’d hope to find 39 cents under the cushions of the love seat so I could buy a box of Safeway macaroni and cheese for the next night’s dinner—it certainly never involved handsomely arranged trays of cheese, crackers, grapes, and hors d’oeuvres.

But then I suppose a picture of my bedraggled, haggard, forlorn, and worried face anxiously hoping that I’d have the strength to remain standing until the next departing fellow student had sated his or her appetite without finishing all of his or her mashed potatoes wouldn’t have made such a good impression to prospective students who might happen upon the magazine.

And how’s that for some run-on sentences!!!

John Christopher Hall, Jr. ’86
Burlington, New Jersey

Simon Parker remembered

Thank you for the excellent article about Dr. Simon Parker [In Memoriam, Summer 2006]. The well-chosen photo accurately portrayed the youthful, cheerful, highly intelligent professor I met when I joined the faculty in 1969. Through the years, he was a good friend and source of information, helping me with questions regarding Biblical languages and pre-Biblical inscriptions. Simon was a delightful human being and a phenomenal scholar. He will truly be missed!

Robert J. Palladino
Sandy, Oregon

In Search of a Common Era

At a recent alumni picnic, I overheard some of the recent grads talking about Old Reed vs. New Reed. What’s the demarcation?

Randy Hardee ’80
Alexandria, Virginia


french imageThe “unidentified colleague” in a photo of Kay and David French [In Memoriam, Summer 2006] has been identified by emeritus chemistry professor Tom Dunne as Jane Shell Raymond ’59. Raymond double-majored in math and chemistry, writing two senior theses while at Reed. She returned to Reed from MIT with a Ph.D., and taught chemistry and math for three years. The Frenches discovered household remedies during their work on the Warm Springs Reservation and brought samples to Raymond, who analyzed them. Raymond is now a professor of chemistry at CalTech. Her daughter is Mary Katherine Raymond Johansson ’91.