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DavidsonNews.net: Davidson's No-Loan Policy Brings Results And Attention

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Five years ago Davidson College became one of the first colleges and universities nationwide to eliminate loans from student financial aid packages. The decision now drives fundraising and recruiting as the college strives to stay affordable and diversify. On at least one level it appears to be working: Davidson is enrolling more minorities and students from other "underrepresented" groups. And 44 percent of this year's freshman class qualified for need-based financial aid, up from 33 percent four years ago. This week, Davidson is being held up as an example. President Carol Quillen was on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday, testifying with a group of other education leaders at a Congressional hearing on "Innovations in College Affordability." President Quillen spoke at midday to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions about the college's grant and work-study program that promises to let students graduate without loans. [Also scheduled to testify were Martha Kanter, Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education; Kevin Carey, Education Policy Director, Education Sector in Washington; Charlie Earl, Executive Director of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges; and Robert Mendenhall, President of Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, Utah.] STUDENT BODY EVOLVES Davidson calls its no-loan program The Davidson Trust. The college now pledges to meet 100 percent of all students' financial need, which it defines as costs beyond what financial guidelines say a family can pay. Students get grants and work-study jobs to make up the difference. In remarks submitted ahead of Thursday's hearing, President Quillen said The Davidson Trust has helped helped attract more applications from students in "underrepresented groups" and boosted the ratio of students on campus who qualify for need-based aid. In her live testimony Thursday, President Quillen said, "Davidson is a distinctive example among a small group of need-blind institutions." President Quillen told Senators: "Students with means live and study together with students with Pell grants," a federal financial aid program. Davidson says the Davidson Trust and its other aid programs allow it to admit students of all economic backgrounds. In practice, that means the face of the Davidson student body is evolving. Last fall, the freshman Class of 2015 had 100 students of color from the U.S., and 39 who were the first in their families to attend college. That was up from 79 students of color and 28 first-generation college students in the class of 2011. Davidson's goal in diversifying extends well beyond the campus. "We are changing the face of society's leadership and striving to make equal opportunity real," President Quillen said Thursday. As Davidson's demographics change, the college also has been growing: Enrollment is now 1,932 students, up from 1,600 a few years ago. That has required new facilities, including dormitories. 'OUR TOP PRIORITY' When first announced in 2007, The Davidson Trust made Davidson the first liberal arts school in the country to adopt a no-loan policy. Officials now describe the program as "the college's top priority." Last year, the average need-based financial aid package at Davidson was $28,167, according to the college. Awards ranged from $1,000 to $58,975. (The top figure covers not only the full cost of tuition, room and board and other expenses - about $50,000 this year - but books, travel home, and other living expenses.) Despite the changing economic profile of its students, President Quillen said in written testimony submitted ahead of Thursday's hearing that Davidson has not seen any change in students' academic achievement. Graduates remain high and unchanged, she said. "These numbers have remained remarkably consistent even after the implementation of The Davidson Trust and the accompanying changes in the demographics of our student profile. Similarly, we have maintained our rigorous admission standards. The profile of our enrolling students has remained unchanged as defined by traditional measures of academic preparedness," she said. While the college is committed to helping students graduate without debt, some still wind up borrowing. President Quillen said in her prepared testimony: "Some need-eligible students still choose to borrow, and for some, such borrowing makes financial sense. However, we do not expect this. Davidson always meets demonstrated need without loans, through grants and employment, usually campus employment of between 8-10 hours per week. " FUND-RAISING CHALLENGE Meanwhile, the college's no-loan policy has presented a new challenge: Raising money to pay for the commitment. In 2007, Davidson officials initially projected it would need at least $70 million in new endowment funds to support the program. In her testimony, President Quillen said that college has received $63 million in commitments to The Davidson Trust, and continues to seek "long-term funding" for the trust. Grants have come from wealthy donors and from foundations such as the Duke Endowment and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. All that new money is needed to support the program, which is costly. Last year, Davidson's need-based financial aid pool totaled $20.6 million - including $1 million in federal funds, $584,000 in state funds, and $19 million of college funds. But here's an interesting side-effect: The college says it is finding support for its no-loan policy among alumni and other donors. New donations, along with money already in hand before the Davidson Trust began, mean the college now has more than $100 million in endowment set aside to pay for need-based financial aid, the college said this week. That's a big chunk of Davidson's total endowment of $500 million - which is smaller than many institutions its size. Alumni and other donors aren't the only ones giving back. For the past couple of years, student leaders on campus have organized an annual dinner to help raise money for The Davidson Trust on and off campus. This year's Dinner at Davidson is scheduled Saturday, Feb. 25. RELATED COVERAGE AND LINKS See previous coverage of the Davidson Trust on DavidsonNews.net. Davidson.edu announcement of Quillen's testimony, "Davidson College President Carol Quillen Invited to Speak Thursday, Feb. 2, at Senate Panel on "Innovations in College Affordability" Davidson College web page on The Davidson Trust. See the Senate.gov page with info and video from Thursday's hearing. Download President Quillen's written testimony (PDF) Feb. 25 Dinner at Davidson information and ticket order form.