In November 2020, colleges and their millions of students were smarting from the economic sting of the coronavirus pandemic.
Colleges trimmed costs after campus shutdowns prompted many to refund auxiliary fees for services like residence halls and dining, which underpin their budgets. They paid for costly COVID-19 testing and protective measures and funneled more financial aid to students.
The budget crunches often meant it was time for austerity. But that month, Grinnell College, a private liberal arts institution in central Iowa, bucked trends. It announced it would devote $5 million a year to excise loans from attendees’ financial aid packages, enabling them to rely solely on grants, scholarships and money earned from student employment. It set the changes to take effect fall 2021 for all applicants who qualify for need-based aid.