What about the Middle Class?

Since I first arrived at Reed in 1954, Reed has been my home away from home. I met my first husband and best friend of many years, Guy Sircello, during freshman orientation. During my senior year, Reed actually hired me as acting documents librarian, and I handled that in addition to student teaching and my thesis. Guy and I coedited the yearbook one year, and Guy, a Baker Scholar, was very involved with student government. We held our wedding reception in Anna Mann, where I had lived in the same room for four years. We both returned to Reed in 1960, he as an instructor, and I originally as a “faculty wife,” but then as director of the Reed Education Project, which I founded, and later as an instructor in community organization during the summer when Reed hosted a Peace Corps training group.

Our children were Reed children, taking swimming lessons on campus and picnicking in the canyon with other Reed families. When Guy decided to leave Reed because he wanted to try a larger university, I was devastated. I would have stayed happily in Portland and at Reed for the rest of my life, but back then, wives followed their husband’s careers. I have kept up my connection to Reed as much as possible. I donate what I can. My sister and I have attended many Reunions. We always stay in the dorms, and subject our husbands to the hard single beds and spartan luxuries of the old dorm block.

You can imagine how happy I was to learn that one of my grandsons was determined to go to Reed. He had visited and loved both what he learned about Reed while there and from me. His interests range from quantum physics, to philosophy, to music, writing, and theatre lighting. Although I know that grandparents are biased, I would not recommend all of my nine grandchildren for Reed, but certainly Andrew is one who I think would make the ideal Reed student. Reed would profit by his attendance, and of course I think that he would, as I do, treasure and benefit from his Reed education for the rest of his life.

His parents intended to cash in savings, and thought that the modest income from an Hawaii college professor and a self-employed dance teacher would qualify him for a partial scholarship. However, it turns out that middle class students no longer need bother to apply to Reed. Reed goes strictly by the needs assessment that you get from some “impartial” national website. Reed goes by “need,” and nothing else. Therefore, the tendency is that you have to be either wealthy or disadvantaged.

Unfortunately, my son-in-law is near retirement, and the situation is such that they will need the retirement money while my grandsons are still in college. Living in Hawaii presents unique economic problems. None of those individual circumstances can be taken into account.

Shouldn’t Reed make at least some scholarship money available for ability or other qualifications, and not just financial need? Shouldn’t the diversity that Reed says it treasures include the diversity of students from the true middle class? Let’s hope that the next Steve Jobs is not driven from Reed by misguided policies on financial aid.

—Sharon Sircello Toji ’58

Irvine, California

Editor's Note: Thank you for raising this important issue. Federal privacy laws prevent us from commenting on specific applications in public, but in general, we can say that the goal of financial aid at Reed is to assist qualified students who could not otherwise afford to come here. Thus our financial aid is based on need, not merit. Although this approach has its drawbacks, we believe it best allows Reed to reap the benefits of an economically and socially diverse student population. Is this unfair to middle-class applicants? Median family household income in the U.S. in 2010 was $61,544, according to the Bureau of the Census. The median parental income of students on aid at Reed is $62,404. In other words, if you define the middle class by income, Reed’s aid is largely going to the middle class. Like most colleges, Reed uses a nationally standardized need-analysis formula to arrive at a family’s expected contribution. However, Reed does take into account special circumstances such as impending retirement and the high cost of living in certain areas; and for what it’s worth, retirement assets are not included in the need analysis. Having said that, we share your concern about the middle-class squeeze. Reed is constantly seeking ways to increase its budget for financial aid, which currently stands at $22.5 million. Roughly one-half of all Reed students receive financial aid; the average package—including grants, loans, and work opportunities—is $35,990 per year.