Keeping Carleton’s Promise

14 November 2017
Campus Tour

Carleton pledges to meet 100 percent of financial need for every admitted student.

Financing a college education has always been a challenge. Paul Thiboutot, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid, knows this firsthand. He was a first-generation college student at Boston College and later helped pay his daughter’s way through Carleton. Neither of their degrees would have been possible without financial aid.

As college costs grow nationwide, Carleton’s commitment remains the same: to meet the full demonstrated financial need of every admitted student. So, in a sense, Carleton is as affordable today as it was 30 years ago. Each family is still asked to pay what the college calculates it can afford, based on variables like income, assets, and family size. After that, Carleton adds student loans and work awards, and then uses grants to make up the rest of the comprehensive fee.

Families are asked to make a reasonable sacrifice to pay for tuition, but Carleton doesn’t want anyone to break the bank. Likewise, students’ campus jobs are restricted to 10 hours per week, and Carleton students have lower than average debt loads at graduation. “We analyze entry-level salary trends to determine what kinds of loan payments our graduates will reasonably be able to afford,” says Thiboutot. That’s one reason why Carleton alumni have one of the lowest Stafford Loan default rates in the nation.

As far as Thiboutot is concerned, Carleton’s first priority is—and should continue to be—ensuring that the school remains accessible to the talented students we admit. That means Thiboutot and his staff admit each class on a need-blind basis until financial aid funds are exhausted. After that, students’ finances are taken into account to ensure that the remainder of the class can afford to come.

“I cried when we officially became need-sensitive in 1993, but I think it was the right decision,” says Thiboutot. Until then, Carleton had promised to both meet full need and admit students without regard to their finances. But when the financial aid budget began to balloon, Carleton had to choose: either leave some admitted students without the financial aid package that would make attendance possible, or switch to need-sensitive admissions for the remainder of the class admitted after the aid budget was exhausted. Carleton chose the latter option.

“Some people think that it would be an honor for a student to know they were accepted to Carleton even if that student couldn’t afford to attend,” Thiboutot says. “But we think it’s more important that our students don’t feel pressured to take on unreasonable debt loads that may cause them to regret their choice to come here. That’s why we need a larger endowment for financial aid—so we can admit larger portions of each class before our aid money runs out.”

When the value of Carleton’s endowment (currently $738 million) approaches that of our peer schools Wellesley College ($1.8 billion) and Amherst College ($2 billion), Carleton can become completely need-blind again, like those institutions are, without sacrificing our commitment to meet all students’ need. Although that will be a long journey, every step along the way makes a difference for each additional student admitted without regard to financial need. Thiboutot wants Carleton’s student body to reflect the wider American society, and he’s grateful for the funds that help him ensure no students “fall through the cracks.”

“I give to financial aid funds at every institution I’ve ever been associated with,” Thiboutot says. “Parents sacrifice a lot to send their kids to college, and that’s a reflection of our community values at Carleton. I’m proud to be a part of that.”

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