What if Financial Aid Went the Other Way?

5 mins read

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This is a work of satire.

Every year students have to reapply for Financial Aid. It can be a stressful process, figuring out whether or not you are going to have to sell one of your kidneys to be able to come here, and having to consider taking fewer classes so you can work more on campus.

However, many students were shocked to discover that staff and faculty go through the same process! Every May, applications are due for either A) the previous year’s salary/hourly rate or B) an increased salary/hourly rate.

Sure everyone expects more, seeing as the cost of living here actually increases every year, but they rarely receive more. More likely, their first year they receive a tidy sum which greatly decreases every year! And God help you if you have assets–the value of those assets are deducted from your pay because, of course, you are expected to contribute to your job.

Every year you list your previous year’s income (in case you had to get a side job) plus all your assets and other pertinent information. You have five lines to write about special circumstances, so choose your words wisely. The Director of Financial Aid said that “All staff and faculty are encouraged to elucidate their individual situation so that it may be considered vis-à-vis your award, but there are no guarantees that this information will actually affect your award”.

When asked about divorcees with children who receive no child support from their former spouse, the Director answered that “Refusal to pay is not considered when determining your award. How would that be fair for other faculty and staff?” Words to live by, though some may have trouble accepting these policies.

Renee DeVarney, Head Coach of the Women’s Basketball Team, said that she has had quite some trouble with Financial Aid. “When I received a $20,000 decrease in my award for no apparent reason, they told me they don’t reconsider. They did say that if I had different numbers, than that was something to work with, but the first decision is the final decision” she said.

It was a different story with Martin Warner, College Registrar. “I just sat there and told them that it was not enough money” he said. “I told them I would not be able to afford working here the subsequent year. They told me ‘well, you may have to consider taking a year off from Swarthmore.’ I was shocked. When I refused and asked about going to the Deans, it immediately changed the conversation. ‘We’ll take another look and get back to you,’ they told me.” Warner eventually received almost $50,000 more.

Students were glad to know they were not alone. An online survey conducted of about 100 students found that most felt that having the staff and faculty apply every year for their salary/hourly rate was beneficial to the college. The Student Council President said that “The billion dollar endowment is not for the students nor staff nor faculty, it must be maintained as we strive for our goal of a two billion dollar endowment. The college appreciates the support of students and staff [and faculty] because, let’s face it, we are all in this together.”

The Director finished her interview with a bold statement: “People’s situations change every year, it is unreasonable to expect that you will be paid the same, let alone more. We want our staff and faculty to work here, but sometimes it’s not beneficial for them to do so financially, so they have to take a leave of absence or transfer to another institution. It disappoints us when they have loans available to them, but our hands are tied, we cannot tap into our billion dollar endowment simply to keep our faculty and staff at Swarthmore.”


  1. this is a work of satire?

    almost sounds real to me… some of the statements that talbot made in this article are true… my parents are separated, and my mom does not help out with the tuition… yet talbot factored her into the equation… and told me to “consider taking a year off from swarthmore or transferring to another institution…”

  2. Amazing! It’s like this was written by someone on the inside who did not go with the program. Talbot seems like a mean old robot. I was shocked at just how cold and mercenary Swarthmore turned out to be; how inflexible. All that baloney about applying even if you cannot afford it. Here’s hoping this dirty little secret gets out. Maybe a YOUTUBE airing is what is needed. Read the article by the guy who leads the charge, James L. Bock . He tells this touching story about how his mom didn’t have any money, but he applied anyway, and got help. Now HE’S in charge and it feels like he’s making everyone he can suffer for his own meager beginnings. Anyone who isn’t starving is given the option–get poor, fast–or leave Swarthmore. When I read his bullshit article, it actually made me laugh out loud. Seriously, find the article–and print it current (http://www.swarthmore.edu/Documents/admissions/jim_inquirer_6-03-04.pdf). Anyone who has been burned by his scrooge-like coldness would find it perversely amusing. Swarthmore is a fantastic school, but the people who work in financial aid are not. I wonder if the donors are aware of just how ruthless the folks they entrusted their “gifts” to are being. There should be a law against cutting back scholarships to the point where an admitted student must go elsewhere. I think all potential students should be warned–Swarthmore is a great school if you are extremely poor or extremely rich. And if you start out as neither, you better hurry up and figure how to get in one group or the other, or be out.

  3. As I understand, Swarthmore is exceedingly generous with its financial aid. From what I understand, 181 members of the freshman class (nearly half) receive financial aid, with an average package of around $30,000—of which $27,000 was a grant or scholarship.

    Since the cost per student per year is actually up around $70,000, I think Swarthmore is pretty generous and reasonable for paying out roughly $60,000 per year for 1/2 of the freshman class (and I’m guessing these numbers hold true for the rest of the grades).

    That said, I’m sure there are places where they screw up. It happens everywhere—but describing Swarthmore as “cold and mercenary” is pretty hyperbolic.

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