Williams College on Wednesday announced plans to adopt an “all-grant” financial aid package, apparently the first of its kind. Starting this fall, the agency will eliminate loans and on-campus job and summer income requirements from all aid packages and replace them entirely with grants.

Williams Chancellor Maud S. Mandel said in an interview that the new policy — which will apply to current and incoming students — will bring the college closer to all of its aid recipients “really Affordable” goal. She hopes the move will ease the burden students often feel when balancing work, study and other commitments while worrying about debt after graduation.

Previously, only students from families with an annual income of less than $75,000 were eligible for the loan-free financial aid program at Williams. Most students who receive aid have on-campus jobs, usually six to eight hours per week, as part of their aid package. Williams had previously asked recipients to contribute, on average, about $1,550 a year from their summer earnings to help cover the cost of attendance (a policy the college announced last fall that it would be scrapping).

Although Elizabeth Creighton, director of admissions and financial services at Williams College, said some recipients at Williams College choose to stay employed, “it’s time to free up students for other experiences.”

Williams’ new move is a variation on a theme for a handful of wealthy, well-known universities. More than 20 years ago, Princeton University became the first institution to adopt a “loan-free” program, replacing money that families had previously had to borrow with grants that did not need to be repaid. Since then, Amherst College, Harvard University and a number of other highly selective campuses have followed suit. Last fall, Smith College announced it would replace all loans with grants, the first women’s college to do so.

All told, more than 75 public and private universities have denied loans to all students or students from families with different income thresholds. Recently, Ohio State University announced an ambitious plan to raise $800 million over the next ten years so that all students can graduate with “student loan forgiveness.” Regardless of the scale, this is an expensive proposition.

Williams, a liberal arts college with about 2,000 students, has previously taken a loan-free path. The institution withdrew loans from its aid package back in 2008, around the same time as several other private universities, fueled by growing endowments.

But soon after, the economy collapsed and college endowments plummeted. What follows is a number of reminders that colleges’ commitment to affordability can ebb and flow with the market. In 2010, Williams’ then interim president announced the college would end its no-loan policy, writing that the college “is in a strong financial position under all circumstances — except for Williams three years ago.”

Williams is in an enviable financial position today. In fiscal 2021, which ended last June, the college’s endowment grew from $2.8 billion to $4.2 billion (an “extraordinary year,” its latest annual investment report said). This will help support a new policy that the college says will help all students — about 53 percent of all undergraduates — receive aid. In addition, the college said it adjusted its financial aid approach last year, reducing some families’ contributions by $4,500.

It’s a fact — Williams operates in a field that most colleges don’t. For the 2022-23 academic year, the college will charge $77,300 in tuition, room and board and fees, but its aid package will average $70,000 per year. As a result of its new policy, the average middle-income student will receive about $35,000 more in aid over four years, while the average low-income student (whose aid program has loan forgiveness) will receive nearly $16,000 in additional grants, according to the college’s estimates. in the paragraph. In total, the college said it will increase its financial aid budget by $6.75 million annually to $77.5 million annually.

As with any discussion of financial aid policy, it’s important to keep some caveats in mind. On the one hand, a college’s loan-free policy doesn’t mean a given student and their parents don’t have to borrow money to make them affordable for that particular college. A family’s expected contribution, as determined by the financial aid formula, may exceed their actual ability to pay in real life.

At Princeton, nearly one in five recent graduates borrowed money and graduated with $9,400 in debt, well below the national average of about $30,000, according to the university. At Williams, the average debt for the Class of 2021 is $12,300.

So-called elite universities can contain many things at once. Generous, of course. But it is also indescribable. Williams received more than 15,000 applications – about 550 places. These are tough times for anyone hoping to enjoy the fruits of the college’s new financial aid policy.

Financial aid policies can also contain a lot at the same time. A well-meaning attempt to lighten the student burden, and a confident strategy to compete with rival institutions for ideal applicants. Especially the vast middleman between very low-income and high-income students.

Although about one-fifth of Williams College students receive federal Pell Grants, nearly half of the students receive no financial aid from the college. 2017 Analysis New York Times The median household income for students attending Williams was found to be $185,800.

Thirty-seven percent of the college’s students are minorities. But by fall 2021, only 99 (4.5 percent) of 2,166 undergraduates identified as black (143 identified as two or more races, non-Hispanic), according to the college’s common dataset.

Mandel, who has been president of Williams since 2018, said increasing student diversity through a number of measures is a priority for the college – and the new financial aid package will help it do that: “In talking to many students, What I’ve often heard over the years is the enormous amount of stress that college can put on individuals and their families as they not only try to navigate all the studies and all the activities they want to do, but also take the burden of work to get All these opportunities.”

This reminds us of an important fact: Financial aid programs that simply enable you to enroll are one thing. Another financial aid package that allows you to fully benefit from college opportunities.