At Williams College in Western Massachusetts, first-year student Daniela Corona walked backward quickly, glancing over her shoulder so as not to trip as she guided a campus tour for interested students and their families.
Corona is the first in her family to go to college, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. “Quite the jump,” she called it. To land on her feet and to meet the terms of her generous financial aid package, Corona works as a tour guide and has had two other jobs on campus.
In April, Williams announced that, beginning next fall, Corona and more than 1,000 other students on financial aid would no longer be required to work. The selective college in Williamstown, Massachusetts, says that makes it the first in the country to give students a truly free ride — with no obligations to borrow or work.
Sitting on the porch of her Victorian home on campus, Williams College President Maud Mandel said administrators wanted to make sure that they “opened up the experience of Williams to all students.”
Mandel said dropping the work-study requirement will cost the college more than $6 million each year. It’s part of a broader investment to achieve “true affordability,” she said, making sure everyone on campus has the same opportunities by covering all hidden costs.
“Things like having textbooks and art supplies, being able to study away, storage. There’s just a lot of things that families end up having to pick up, so the true affordability is really about getting those costs manageable in a way that makes it work for all of our families,” she said.
“This is a generation of students that talks about work-life balance the way my friends do,” Mandel said, adding that the college dropped its requirement because most students — regardless of their income — report increased stress during the pandemic.
“They feel pulled in many directions and the extra required work obligation is one of the stresses they carry,” she said.
Financial aid officers across the country are watching to see whether the move at Williams is the beginning of a new trend. The cost of private nonprofit colleges in the U.S. now averages more than $55,000 a year.
Brandon Busteed, chief partnership officer and global head of learn-work innovation at Kaplan, said he applauds colleges identifying this as an equity issue. But he said he thinks few colleges will follow Williams because the learning value of work is precious.
“It’s what employers want to see from a graduate, in addition to the classic academic performance,” Busteed said.
Daniela Corona has no loans at Williams. Her dad, a landscaper in Norwalk, Connecticut, pays less than $1,000 each year, but she has worked up to eight hours a week on campus.
“When I was looking at colleges, the biggest thing for me was affordability, and the financial aid just made it really accessible for me to enter a space like Williams.”
Corona said she appreciates being relieved of the work mandate.
“I thought it was amazing,” she said. “I thought it was just another example of Williams striving to make this an accessible and inclusive space. Some students like me have to worry about making a little bit of extra cash if they want to have something nice or if they want to do something like buy toothpaste on top of all their schoolwork.”
The option to work for extra spending cash will still be there in the fall, and Corona said she plans to continue working on campus at least as a tour guide.