Accessing opportunity through talent and ability

Joanne Berger-Sweeney
Photo by Julie Bidwell

During the week, I often take time at lunch to walk our beautiful campus and reflect on our student body, filled with unique and talented people. As I have gotten to know thousands of students over the years, I recognize the wide range of perspectives and distinct narratives that each one brings to enrich our campus. I often ask myself what more we can do to help support their success.

After all, higher education is one of the most important investments we can make in the future, and call me biased, but I view Trinity College’s liberal arts experience to be among the best around, shaping our students to become the architects of their own future and, by extension, stewards of their future communities.

Yet it’s no secret that for more and more families today, this investment in education presents an increasing financial burden—and financial aid options are still too cumbersome, leading some families to believe that an excellent liberal arts education is out of reach. A robust, easily navigable financial aid program can open doors and provide opportunity for talented students.

Financial support can make the difference between a prospective student applying or bypassing the possibility of a Trinity education. Financial aid can give those students to whom we have already said “yes” a reason to reciprocate with a “yes” to a deserved space on our campus. When we enroll high-performing, highly engaged students at Trinity—not just students who can afford our tuition—we enrich the experiences of all of our students. And we help those students make the best decisions of their lives.

This year, Trinity received 6,202 applications for the Class of 2026, marking a five-year high for the college. From 2014 to 2021, the percentage of students who were Pell-eligible (the lowest U.S. income bracket) increased from 11 to 14 percent. In 2014, 44 percent of all students received some form of financial aid, whereas in 2021, 61.5 percent of all students did. This year, Trinity received applications from residents of 46 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and from residents of 141 countries around the world, enriching the quality of our student body and representing a broader range of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds than ever before. We also have added more than $25 million annually to our financial aid budget since 2015, and we have established four-year aid commitments for low-income students, signaling our pledge to provide adequate financial aid through their graduation. In total, we have increased access for talented students who deserve a Trinity education.

Fortunately, we have exceptional alumni, such as the Borges siblings, who understand the critical importance of financial aid. The Borges family’s gift will help make college more affordable for a new generation of Bantams; the siblings understand that talented students live across zip codes and that opportunities for lower-income students do not always exist. In brief, the Borges family’s generosity will allow more deserving students to experience the transformative power of a Trinity education.

I often get asked about how the increasing cost of college relates to merit-based versus need-based financial aid. My position is relatively straightforward: all students who are accepted to Trinity and receive aid are meritorious. These students may have different levels of financial need, but they are all talented and worthy of our support.

The pandemic has magnified the importance of how institutions choose to allocate their resources and shifted an already competitive admissions landscape. We continue to choose to devote considerable resources to financial aid because it allows us access to the best students who will enrich our Trinity community and who will benefit from our distinct brand of experiential liberal arts with an urban pulse.

As we prepare to enter our bicentennial year, we remain steadfast to the first goal of our strategic plan: to be a first-choice destination for students who demonstrate talent and hold exceptional potential. I am proud of every student we admit. A dynamic and talented student body has always been the hallmark of Trinity College, yet admitting that talented student body costs more than ever before. With support from our alumni and friends, let us continue to use our financial resources to open doors for talented students. That is the best way to honor Trinity’s past, present, and future.