close view of Jay Talmadge ’25 with their orange dyed hair in a loose ponytail and wearing cat-eye frame glasses
Above: Jay Talmadge ’25 is pursuing a double major in science, technology, and society and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.

Robust Financial Aid Program is Key to the College’s Mission

Colby has doubled its financial aid budget since 2014
Words by Bob Keyes and Elyse Catalina
Photograph by Gabe Souza

As a first-generation college student, Jay Talmadge ’25 had not considered the possibility of attending a highly selective college such as Colby, because of the approximate $84,000 price to attend annually. But what felt like an impossibility became a reality thanks to Colby’s financial aid program.

Colby is one of the few colleges and universities in the country that meets 100 percent of demonstrated need and does not include student loans in its financial aid packages, providing students with the opportunity to graduate without student loan debt.

“That my family has the security, knowing that I am engaging and enriching my education and my opportunities in life without this big looming bill of debt over us, is a weight off of my shoulders that I cannot even begin to explain,” said Talmadge, who is pursuing a double major in science, technology, and society and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, as well as a minor in Russian language and culture.

The Colby Commitment, established with an anonymous financial aid gift, guarantees that Colby will meet 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated financial need without loans. If a student’s family has a total income of $75,000 or less (with assets typical of this income range), Colby has ensured they will have a parent or guardian contribution of $0.

Colby continues to place access and affordability at the core of its work. Beginning with the identification and recruitment of talented students from all backgrounds, the College has substantially broadened its demographic diversity, becoming one of the country’s top schools in overcoming national trends and expanding its commitment to enrolling talented students from all walks of life. The American Talent Initiative, which seeks to expand access and opportunity for talented low- and moderate-income students at the nation’s colleges and universities with the highest graduation rates, recently ranked the College number one in the Highest Rate of Pell Growth category, noting that from 2015 to 2021 Colby more than doubled its Pell student enrollment.

Since 2014 the College has more than doubled its financial aid budget, increasing it from $28 million to nearly $60 million while raising nearly $82 million and creating 129 new endowed funds.

The Fair Shot Fund means that for families with a total income of $150,000 or less and typical assets, a parent or guardian contribution will be no more than $15,000 annually, which often makes Colby cost less than other four-year colleges and universities.

As a result of that effort, the College is able to offer the Colby Commitment, a comprehensive initiative aimed at recruiting and supporting extraordinary students from all socioeconomic backgrounds and reducing the financial barriers that would otherwise preclude them from experiencing a dynamic Colby education. It ensures families with an income of $75,000 or less, approximately the median household income in the United States, with typical assets, will expect a parent or guardian contribution of $0. With the Fair Shot Fund, families with an income of up to $150,000 and typical assets will pay no more than $15,000 annually. According to 2021 Census Bureau data, approximately 80 percent of U.S. households earn less than $150,000. These commitments have made Colby one of the most affordable options for many talented students from low- and middle-income families.

Weiland Welcome Grant was created in 2022, awarding $1,250 in addition to financial aid for expenses associated with necessary school items to eligible first-year students. The grant program was established with a $3-million gift from Nancy Greer Weiland ’65, P’93, GP’24 and her husband, Andrew ’64, P’93, GP’24.
Once students arrive on campus, the Weiland Welcome Grant awards $1,250 in addition to financial aid for expenses associated with necessary school items for first-year students who qualify. The fund was established by Nancy Greer Weiland ’65, P’93, GP’24 and Andrew Weiland ’64, P’93, GP’24.

Roughly 40 percent of Colby undergraduates received need-based grant aid in 2022–23, and the average annual award for those students was more than $60,000. Colby’s financial aid packages have been recognized nationally in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of colleges with the most generous financial aid programs.

Colby has implemented new strategies for broadening outreach to low-income communities. Applications to attend Colby are coming in at a record pace and have more than tripled since 2014, from about 5,100 to nearly 18,000 this year, providing the opportunity to increase the talent and diversity of the first-year class.

While there has been enormous progress, Colby continues to work toward expanding access to talented students from all backgrounds. Building the College’s dedicated endowment for financial aid remains one of the main pillars of the Dare Northward campaign. While gifts to financial aid have helped build Colby’s endowed funds, the College continues to rely heavily on operating support to meet the financial aid budget. Building the College’s endowed financial aid budget is a needed step to the long-term security and viability of Colby and a permanent commitment to access and excellence.

Investing in financial aid helps create an academic environment that represents a variety of perspectives and benefits the entire Colby community. It also provides an exceptional intellectual experience and creates a culture in which Colby students have the opportunity to learn about the world from their peers both inside and outside the classroom.

“It’s really fun interacting with people who have similar backgrounds to me, but also have so much more diversity of opinions and experiences,” said Talmadge. “Getting to learn and hear about that from them is really eye-opening, and I’m really grateful for it.”