Even colleges with endowments as large as Haverford's are not immune to the financial challenges hitting universities across the country.

Haverford's board of managers this month approved a plan to set an annual cap on the college's mushrooming financial aid budget and increase the size of the freshman class by seven students a year for five years in an effort to balance the budget.

The plan has proved controversial because it includes modifying the college's long-held policy of admitting students regardless of ability to pay and giving them enough financial aid to attend. Haverford will continue that policy for most students - until its financial aid budget is exhausted. Then it will look to fill remaining spots with students who can afford the tab next year at $66,490 for tuition, fees, and room and board.

The college estimates the policy, which will become effective for freshmen entering fall 2017, could affect up to the final 5 percent of admissions, roughly 10 to 15 students. For those students, Haverford would no longer be "need blind" but "need aware."

Some students and alumni are concerned the plan will deny needy applicants a Haverford education and make the college less diverse racially and socioeconomically.

"A proclivity towards higher income applicants is bound to happen once need is considered, and some lower income students will be deterred from even applying to Haverford," warned Hannah Krohn, 21, a senior from Clearwater, Fla., in a piece for the student newspaper.

Krohn, a political science major with minors in environmental studies and international studies, said she understands Haverford's financial burden and need to maintain a high-quality education for its 1,300 students.

"But," she said, "it is still disheartening that Haverford will not be as accessible for the widest group of qualified students possible."

Others say Haverford will continue to give students from all backgrounds access.

"I cannot believe that Haverford still won't have a commitment to a diverse student body in every way," said Joan Mazzotti, executive director of Philadelphia Futures, which helps low-income students get into and through college. "That's who they are. I'm sure they would institute this in a responsible way and not sacrifice the richness of a diverse student body."

Mazzotti and her husband cared for and mentored two students who received financial aid from Haverford and graduated.

Haverford's decision comes as the college has faced deficits in recent years and a downgrade in its financial rating from Moody's. In 2014, Haverford moved away from the costly "no loan" financial aid policy it adopted in 2007, requiring some middle-class students to borrow again to cover their education.

Haverford officials emphasize that their finances, bolstered by a nearly $500 million endowment, are far from dire. Moody's said Haverford still has the fifth-highest of 21 ratings with a stable outlook.

But a college expecting a sound future can't continue to spend more than it takes in and draw increasing amounts from its endowment to balance the budget, said Haverford president Kim Benston in a letter published in the student newspaper. In Haverford's financial statement for 2014-15, the shortfall exceeded $5 million in a $100 million budget before the college filled the gap with other revenue.

"We could stay the present course, proceed to spend more than we take in, and slowly but steadily erode the endowment," Benston wrote. "I am persuaded that doing so would run the risk of diluting the value and meaning of a Haverford education."

Since 2009, the percentage of the budget designated for financial aid has grown from 15 percent to 20 percent, as the college fields a needier applicant pool and the price it charges rises.

The number of students receiving financial aid has grown from 40 percent to 50 percent, he said. This year, Haverford's financial aid budget will exceed $26 million, up 153 percent from 2004-05.

"We just can't manage a budget effectively when such a huge piece is a question mark," said Garry Jenkins, a 1992 Haverford graduate who is vice chair of the college's board of managers and incoming dean of the University of Minnesota Law School.

Jess Lord, dean of admission and financial aid, said very few schools are completely "need-blind" for all applicants and meet everyone's full financial need. Some colleges consider ability to pay when admitting international students - as Haverford already does - or when drawing from a wait-list. Others may be need-blind on admissions, but do not provide enough financial aid for students to attend.

David Hawkins, of the National Association of College Admission Counseling, said while 79 percent of four-year colleges report they are need blind, few meet that stringent definition.

He said he has seen a slight increase in "need-aware" colleges. Tufts, Colby, Wesleyan, Reed, and Clark have made the move in recent years.

"Institutions are having to be very creative about how they are structuring their entire enrollment process," he said. "The idea that they might need to lift up the tablecloth at the very end to make sure they have enough coverage for the incoming class is not surprising."

But the arguments did little to sway some critics.

Warren Barrows, a 1985 alum, worries the college, rooted in Quaker values, will diminish "a crucial rung on the social mobility ladder" and become more a place for the "1 percent."

"While that rung is not being eliminated for all yet, it is undoubtedly being removed for some, and the clear trend is that it will be removed for more as time goes on," said Barrows, a New York lawyer.

Amy Zamora, 20, a junior, spoke against the change, saying she believed other students should get the same chance she did. Zamora, who grew up in a single-parent home in Allentown, said she couldn't have afforded Haverford without the nearly full scholarship she received.

"Would I have applied to Haverford if it wasn't need-blind? I actually don't know the answer to that," she said. "Need-aware does not make the same statement as need-blind."

Some students backed the college, saying its generous financial aid policy has to have a limit.

"It was not sustainable in the face of other competing interests," said Jay Garcia, who just graduated with a biology degree.

Garcia, 22, of West Philadelphia, who attended the school on a full scholarship, said he did not believe the new policy would diminish the school's diversity.

Haverford's incoming freshman class is made up of 37 percent minority students, including 8 percent African American and 10 percent Latino, Lord said.

Will Herzog, 19, a sophomore from Malvern, said the college will continue to increase financial aid by a specified amount each year. Setting a cap, he said, makes sense: "We need to preserve our resources in perpetuity."

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