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Against the backdrop of record levels of student loan debt—expected to exceed $1 trillion in the United States this year—the trustees of Colby College recently reaffirmed their commitment to replacing student loans with grants. The program makes it possible for students with financial need to graduate debt-free and directly addresses concern about the effect of student debt on the economy—concern that led President Obama to announce executive actions to reduce student loan payments.

In early 2008 Colby announced it would replace loans with grants in students’ financial aid packages. A number of colleges made similar pledges around the same time. The stock market plunge later that year caused many institutions to rethink, and in some cases quietly eliminate, so-called “no-loan” policies.

Colby’s commitment stands.

“It’s principally about access and affordability,” Colby President William D. Adams said of the initiative. “As comprehensive fees rise, we need to do more to make sure that no qualified student is denied a Colby education because of concerns about paying off student loans.”

Colby’s current comprehensive fee, which includes tuition, room, and board, is $53,800. The average first-year financial aid package is $39,230. Colby awarded more than $25 million in grant aid during the 2010-11 academic year.

This initiative is one of several at Colby aimed at ensuring that a student’s qualifications, not ability to pay, are the only criteria for admission, and that once here, all students have the same opportunities, regardless of their financial resources. Other initiatives include offering College funds to enrolled students who couldn’t otherwise afford to take unpaid internships and making stipends available for students to pursue academic research instead of campus jobs.

Founded in 1813, Colby College is the 12th-oldest independent liberal arts college in the nation. Colby provides a rigorous academic program that fosters transformational relationships between students and faculty. Graduates emerge as committed leaders ready to make an impact on their world. The college enrolls 1,825 students.