- Bennington College, a small nonprofit institution in Vermont, rolled out a new no-loan program for the state's residents Wednesday.
- The college will meet up to the full demonstrated need for first-year students and transfer students who are Vermont residents, it said in a news release. That means it will cover tuition, fees, room and board with sources of financial aid other than student loans.
- Eligible undergraduates can receive types of aid including institutional need-based aid, merit scholarships, state grants, federal grants and student employment.
Bennington officials cast the program as the first of its kind at a private institution in Vermont. The goal is to attract more in-state students.
Just 2% of the college's undergraduates came from Vermont last year, according to federal data. Another 16% came from outside the U.S., leaving 82% coming from other states.
Bennington's enrollment fluctuated during the pandemic and in the years leading up to it. It enrolled 851 students in 2017. Enrollment fell to 799 students in fall 2020 before rising again to 884 last fall.
The college's no-loan program joins a host of other affordability initiatives institutions have launched recently amid intense scrutiny of college costs and student loan debt. In Vermont, several public colleges — Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College — will cut tuition next year when they merge to form a new institution, Vermont State University.
Wealthy nonprofit institutions in various states have also promoted affordability efforts. In June, Dartmouth College said it was replacing undergraduate loans with scholarships. In April, Williams College cut loan and work requirements from its financial aid packages. In May, Whitman College said it will meet full demonstrated financial need for in-state students starting next year.
But Bennington is a much less wealthy institution. While Dartmouth and Williams measure their endowment values in the billions, and Whitman's was worth some $800 million last year, Bennington's endowment was valued at $40.2 million in 2021, according to its audited financial statements.
Students who qualify for the new program will still be able to borrow for college. Bennington said they can take out federal student loans to cover costs they incur on top of tuition, fees, room and board. Or they could borrow to cover the amount their families are expected to contribute to their college education.
“We are excited about this significant step towards making the Bennington College experience more attainable and affordable for all eligible students and their families throughout Vermont,” the college's president, Laura Walker, said in a statement.