The Deepest
Cut of All?

by J. Kevin Cool


When the dust finally settles on the fiscal 1996 federal budget process, probably some time this fall, and Colby officials assess the damage sustained from cuts in student financial assistance programs, their reaction may be "it could have been worse."

Although Congress may substantially pare some of the government's most popular programs for helping undergraduates pay for college, President William Cotter is pleased that at least one key component originally targeted for elimination has been restored. The in-school interest subsidy that allows students to defer paying interest on their loans until after they have graduated has been spared, or so it appears.

"There may be a victory here for our lobbying efforts, and specifically the Maine lobbying effort, in getting the in-school interest subsidy retained," Cotter said. He says Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and William Cohen successfully fought for the subsidy after an earlier House Budget Resolution called for its elimination.

Last year, 625 Colby students received a total of $2.1 million in "subsidized" Stafford Loans. Under the budget resolution proposed in the House, interest on these loans would begin accruing while students were still in college. Doing away with the subsidy--Cotter called it a "stealth tax"--would have required some Colby students to pay as much as $2,000 in additional interest at the end of their four-year college career.

Still at stake in the budget process are the Perkins Loan program, which provides funds that can be loaned to students at an annual interest rate of 5 percent; work-study programs; and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which provide funds for low-income students. Last year Colby students received nearly $1 million from those three funding sources combined.

Nobody is sure what programs will be cut or to what extent, Cotter says, but he says that any cuts in federal assistance will be difficult to absorb. "It seems anomolous to me that at a time when deficit reduction is being advocated as a way to decrease the burden on the future generation, we are taxing students to go to college," he said. "They are supposed to be the beneficiaries of deficit reduction and instead they are being asked to shoulder more of the burden. It flies in the face of all the rhetoric."

Currently, about one-third of Colby's students receive need-based financial assistance and 60 percent get work study.

Colby's Director of Financial Aid Lucia Whittelsey '73 says Colby is particularly vulnerable to cuts in federal assistance because many of its peers have larger endowments that allow them more of a safety net. "It makes it harder for us to compete when we can't offer the same financial assistance packages. There is also the impact on Colby's philosophy of maintaining access for students regardless of need. One type of diversity is socio-economic diversity, and we want to maintain that," she said.

Whittelsey noted that cuts in federal aid would be felt most severely by families of Maine students, many of whom receive financial assistance. "Colby has always been committed to access for Maine students, but cuts like this make that commitment harder and harder to maintain," she said.

Cotter said federal funding cuts would again underline the importance of building the College's endowment. "It costs more every year just to meet the growing financial assistance needs created by inflation," he said. "When you combine that with more cuts in federal aid, endowment becomes even more important."

A significant reduction in federal financial assistance for students--preliminary figures ranged from $6 billion to $10 billion--would be "a pill I don't think we could swallow," Cotter said. "It would mean reducing aid packages for students currently receiving aid. We simply couldn't make that up from institutional funds."

Complicating the issue further is a rescissions package that calls for a $600-million reduction in education spending for fiscal year 1995. The result is that money already allocated to students for the coming academic year would have to be withdrawn. "It doesn't leave us any time to plan," Whittelsey said.

Although the College is actively lobbying Congress to avoid further cuts in higher education, Cotter has not asked parents to join in that effort. "We don't mobilize lobbying efforts by parents. Our position is that we will keep parents informed, but how they respond is an individual decision and should not be orchestrated by the College," he said.

The proposed cuts were considered serious enough to warrant a combined public campaign by the presidents of Colby, Bates and Bowdoin and the chancellor of the University of Maine system, who spoke at a joint press conference in early April. The statement prepared by the college leaders noted that making higher education less accessible is bad policy both as a short-term remedy and as a long-term fiscal measure. "The fact is that college-educated people--from all walks of life--pay increasingly larger shares of federal and state taxes," the statement read. "College-educated individuals now pay about two-thirds of all IRS revenues, far out of proportion to their numbers. If the reduction of the federal deficit is a principle long-term goal, then clearly financial aid that assists higher percentages of our young people through college is one of the most effective investments."


Halls of Ivy
In 1877, following in the footsteps of Mary Low, Helen Louise Coburn became the second woman to graduate from Colby College. Not coincidentally, that was also the founding year of Ivy Day, an annual celebration coordinated by the women of the junior class. Ivy Day was one of the earliest institutions Colby women could claim as their own. It was a program of singing, dancing and oratory in which all female students participated. The program for 1877 included, among other things, "Our Ivy, 'tis of Thee" sung to the tune of "America." While the program changed each year, Ivy Day's one constant function was the ritual transfer of authority from the senior to the junior class women. In 1917 this transfer was symbolized by the gift from the senior class president to the junior class president of the trowel used to plant the ivy.
He Didn't Have a Prayer
Colby's founders originally intended the College to be a non-sectarian seminary for clergy. Indeed, during Colby's infancy many graduates went on to serve as ministers and missionaries. The curriculum and routine of the College reflected this heritage; daily morning chapel attendance was mandatory and an absent student faced the possibility of fines or censure.

Students of that era frequently schemed for some way to escape the morning prayer service. One of the most ingenious ploys was claimed by Benjamin F. Butler, class of 1838, later a general of Civil War fame. In his autobiography Butler tells of submitting a petition to President Babcock claiming that he had little hope of salvation since Calvinist doctrine says the ratio of the saved to the damned is small and since the faculty were surely among the saved. Therefore, Butler maintained, no amount of chapel attendance would do him any good.

There is no record of the petition having been approved.


Name That Major
Among the more interesting affinities between academic discipline and last name in the year just past were a Rock music major (Jennifer '95, Ardsley, N.Y.), an English English major (Sarah '95, Madison, Conn.) and a Fortune in economics (Christopher '95, Freeland, Md.).

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