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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

A history of financial aid at Dartmouth

After the College made several significant changes to financial aid this year, one writer examines the program’s history at Dartmouth.

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This article is featured in the 2024 Green Key special issue.

In the last year, Dartmouth has undergone several significant changes to its financial aid policy, including nearly doubling the income threshold for which the College requires no parent tuition contribution. According to the papers of Dartmouth founder Eleazar Wheelock, two histories of the College and archival records in Rauner Library, financially supporting students who could not attend independently has been a part of Dartmouth’s mission since its inception. The Dartmouth sent a writer to investigate the long and, at times, complicated history of financial aid at the College — which has been characterized by both rising costs and a desire to make Dartmouth accessible to the best students, regardless of their income. 

The earliest mentions of financial aid date back to 1754, 15 years before Dartmouth’s founding, when Wheelock founded Moor’s Charity School in Lebanon, Conn., according to Frederick Chase, author of “A History of Dartmouth College and the Town of Hanover.” Wheelock’s plan for the Moor School included “Indians of both sexes” and “English youth,” Chase wrote. Wheelock “counted on support from charity” to support these students, Chase added. 

According to Chase, the school was founded “for the educating of any or all the Indian tribes in North America, or other poor persons.” In a letter dated March 1756, Wheelock wrote that “the tuition of English boys … support[s] at least four Indian boys.” In December 1762, the school had 25 so-called “charity scholars.” 

The school officially received a new name, location and charter on Dec. 13, 1769, becoming Dartmouth College. According to a report Wheelock wrote in February 1773, around half of the nearly 80 students attending Dartmouth were “on charity.” Though the College was in debt after the end of the Revolutionary War,  Dartmouth’s Trustees still voted to support “charity scholars” in 1780, according to Leon Burr Richardson’s 1932 book “History of Dartmouth College.”

Since the College's early years, the price of tuition has drastically increased. In 1807, tuition was $20 a year, and in 1811, a student named Amos Kendall spent a total of $570 in his four years at the College, Richardson wrote. A journal entry in the Rauner collections from Horatio Newhall dated Aug. 7, 1819 claimed that a Dartmouth student “can pay his college bills, board, washing, wood and candles for $125 per year.” 

For most of the 19th century, the majority of Dartmouth students did not pay full tuition, according to Richardson. Although scholarship aid did not formally exist for much of this period, the College ran what Richardson referred to as an “extensive loan fund.” The Class of 1806, for example, left the College owing $1,222.18 in loans to pay off after graduation, Richardson wrote. For most class years between 1800 and 1850, the majority of the Dartmouth class was from New Hampshire. The College during this period was “very decidedly a local institution,” Richardson wrote, with many students hailing from rural, agricultural backgrounds, nearly all of whom contributed to their tuition through employment in Hanover while studying. 

By the end of the 19th century, Dartmouth had begun attracting students from around the country. According to the Sept. 28, 1883 edition of The Dartmouth, the entering class of more than 100 students was the “largest in years.”

On June 27, 1883, The Dartmouth published an editorial that argued for more alumni donations to support further student scholarship aid. 

“Although the College has received liberal endowments from individuals, there has never been that concerted action on the part of the alumni that the graduates of many of our leading colleges are accustomed to take with regard to their alma maters,” the Editorial Board wrote.

On June 26, 1906, College President William J. Tucker gave an address to alumni in which he stated that the College had provided $20,000 in individual scholarships the prior year, according to a transcript of the address.

“The amount is less than it ought to be,” Tucker said. “The value of individual scholarships is less at Dartmouth than any other college of its grade.”

The March 1938 issue of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine contains a reference to a “financial aid program of the College” — one of the earliest instances of the phrase “financial aid” being used in this context. Total aid in the previous academic year had amounted to $142,500 and was distributed to about 20% of the student body, the Alumni Magazine reported. The average amount per student was “slightly more than $306” — about 75% of tuition at the time — according to the article. 

The financial aid system became even more systematized in the 20th century, with students able to pay for their education through employment at the Dartmouth Dining Association and by completing “assistantships” at the library, athletics department and other departments. In October 1949, the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine lamented the state of financial aid at the College. 

“Substantial aid … is granted only to a relatively few men because Dartmouth’s scholarship funds are limited,” the magazine stated.

When Dartmouth increased its tuition in 1946, it did so with the specific rationale of increasing its financial aid, College President John Sloan Dickey explained in a statement to undergraduates announcing the increase. Dickey said Dartmouth would not “continue to subsidize those who can afford to pay their way at the expense of excluding the qualified man who requires some assistance.”

In 1967, the College officially adopted a need-blind admissions policy for domestic students, meaning that Dartmouth would no longer weigh an applicant’s financial need in the admissions process, according to a timeline provided by current financial aid director G. Dino Koff. For decades, little else changed in the College’s financial aid policies until 1999, when Dartmouth reduced the loan burden and need for parent contributions for students whose families earned less than $30,000 a year, according to the timeline. In 2005, the College raised the income threshold, announcing that students with families earning less than $45,000 per year would not have to pay loans, Koff said. 

In 2022, the Call to Lead campaign, which focused on raising money to improve the student experience at Dartmouth, made it possible for the College to both replace federal and institutional loans with scholarship grants and extend its need-blind policy to international students. Koff said the capital campaign raised $540 million for financial aid alone, adding that Call to Lead also made it possible for students on financial aid to pay the same price for study abroad terms as on-campus terms.

“The capital campaign allowed us to implement so many different policies and make them sustainable,” Koff said. 

On March 25, the College received the largest scholarship bequest in its history — a gift of more than $150 million donated by the estate of Barbara and Glenn Britt ’71 Tu’72. The majority  of the gift will assist in nearly doubling the parent contribution threshold for current and future undergraduate students, so that a family earning less than $125,000 with assets per year — up from $65,000 previously — will not need to contribute to their student’s tuition whatsoever. The student will have to contribute no more than $5,000 from leave-term jobs and on-campus employment, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth.

Sri Korandla ’26 said that although he comes from a middle class family whose income is the exact median income for a family of four in New Hampshire, his family does not receive a lot of aid. He said affording Dartmouth is a huge percentage of his family’s income, and he hopes the new initiative will help take some of the burden off his parents.

“Financial aid is a huge barrier for a lot of people who are trying to go to college in general, and initiatives like this are very important to encourage people of all different backgrounds to apply,” Korandla said. “One thing I like about Dartmouth is that, even though it is a very small school, everyone’s a little different. I think initiatives like this are very important to creating that environment.”

Perciliana Moquino ’26 added that the new bequest will impact her financial aid.

“It really takes the burden off of my parents,” Moquino said. 

In the future, Koff said he hopes that financial aid continues to adapt to the economy. 

“I hope that these aren’t static initiatives that were announced,” Koff said. “How can we continue to increase this to help families? We’re never at a loss for ideas. We just want to make sure everything is sustainable.”

Moquino said the expansion of financial aid allows a “whole new array of people” to attend Dartmouth.

“I think that there are many amazing students from around the country who would benefit from financial aid, and from the opportunity to receive an education from Dartmouth,” Moquino said.

Koff added that he was grateful for the support of donors who make the financial aid program possible.

“The Dartmouth community is incredibly supportive, and that includes families and alumni,” Koff said. “The support that we get is unmatched compared to our peer schools. It’s wonderful that our community bleeds green and supports our students now and in the future. This community is just so generous.”

Korandla said the history of financial aid at Dartmouth is one of progress.

“I know a lot of people have grievances with the system overall, but compared to 100 years ago, Dartmouth is definitely a more equitable place,” Korandla said.