November/December 2016 Member Spotlight: Williams College
Elevator Speech: Williams College is a private liberal arts college located in Williamstown, MA (about 135 miles northwest of Boston). Founded in 1793, Williams was one of the trailblazing schools that launched American higher education and has path-breaking originality in its DNA. Most notably, Williams offers more than 60 Tutorials each year, which are academic experiences that pair two students with a faculty member in deep inquiry of a single topic over an entire semester. The college also boasts a longstanding commitment to enrolling and supporting underrepresented students. Williams is one of about four-dozen colleges in the U.S. that practices need-blind admission for domestic applicants (including undocumented students and those with DACA status) and meets 100% of the demonstrated need of every admitted student, every year. The college enrolls 2,200 students who hail from nearly every state and more than 85 countries. Nearly 40% of Williams’ students are American students of color, and 15% are the first in their families to attend college. Half of all Williams’ students receive financial aid from the college.
NPEA Member Type: Supporting Institution
Leadership: Adam F. Falk, President
Interviewees: Liz Creighton (Deputy Director of Admission) and Stephanie Gonzalez (Associate Director for Diversity Recruitment)
Contact Information: Stephanie.Gonzalez@williams.edu, (413) 597-2211
Location(s): Williamstown, MA
Year Founded: 1793
Staffing: In the admission office there are 18 FTEs, 100 tour guides and student ambassadors, and a robust volunteer network.
Students Served: Williams College hosts 12,000 visitors on campus each year, receives 7,000+ applications for admission, and enrolls 2,200 students annually.
“About Us”: Fast Facts, News & Events, Areas of Study, Student Life, Diversity & Equity
Get Involved: Apply, Request Information, Ways to Give, Employment
Main Website: http://www.williams.edu/
Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn
Click on the links below to learn more, or scroll down to read the full interview.
Q: Please provide a brief overview of Williams College.
A: Williams College is a private liberal arts college located in Williamstown, MA that offers 63 areas of study and hundreds of hands-on learning opportunities. The undergraduate enrollment is approximately 2,200 students and the student to faculty ratio is 7:1. Williams students hail from 46 states (75% of students come from outside of New England) as well as 85 countries. Nearly 40% of students are American students of color and 8% are international students.
The college also boasts a longstanding commitment to enrolling and supporting first-generation and high-achieving low-income (HALI) students. Pell grant recipients comprise 20% of the student body and 15% of students are part of the first generation of their families to attend college. Each year Williams provides funding for 200 HALI students to attend the Windows on Williams (WOW) fall visit program. An additional 200 students who apply to but are not accepted into WOW have the opportunity to connect with a Williams admission officer by phone during the summer before their senior year. Funding is also provided for an additional 150 HALI admitted students to visit campus during Williams Previews, our admitted student program in April. We are also proud to be one of the first QuestBridge College Partners, and to count more than 500 QuestBridge Scholars among current students and alumni.
Williams devotes significant resources to supporting students through graduation. Dr. Rosanna Reyes, Associate Dean of First-Generation Initiatives, leads the college’s efforts to support first-generation college students. The Summer Humanities and Social Science and Summer Science programs provide talented incoming first-years who are first-generation students or from traditionally underrepresented minority groups with an intensive, five-week experience that launches their academic careers at Williams. Finally, the Diversity Action Research Team, a collaborative think tank of faculty and staff, uses data to better understand issues of diversity and inclusion and propose institutional strategies aimed at building a community where all can learn and thrive. Back to top.
Q: Please share a little more about the history of Williams. What significant events and/or people have shaped the mission and goals of the college?
A: Colonel Ephraim Williams was an officer in the Massachusetts militia. His will included a bequest to support and maintain a free school to be established in the town of West Hoosac (MA), provided that the town change its name to Williamstown. The Williamstown Free School opened with 15 students in 1791. Not long after its founding, the trustees of the school petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to convert the free school to a tuition-based college. The legislature agreed and in 1793, Williams College was chartered. It was the second college founded in Massachusetts. Originally a men’s college, Williams became co-educational in 1970. Fraternities were abolished 1962 and today’s residential system is unique in higher education for the absence of any special interest housing. Back to top.
Q: Speaking of growth, please share what plans Williams has for its future. What next steps and goals are you focused on?
A: We believe that Williams’ future will be shaped by how we answer three fundamental questions about our people, our practices, and our purpose: Who will we be? How will we teach and learn? What difference will we make? The college recently completed construction of a new library, athletic facility, and the first new dorm in 40 years, and anticipates the opening of a new science center in 2020. We also continue to expand the Williams tutorial program, especially at the 100 level for first-year students. Back to top.
Q: NPEA is committed to creating a culture of data with and for its members through NPEA Data Counts. In what ways does your institution currently use data to inform decisions and programming?
A: Our adoption of the Slate CRM platform gives us the opportunity to capture robust data at every point in the admission process. We also partner closely with the Office of Institutional Research (IR) to track how all students are thriving during their time at Williams. If you are interested in connecting with our IR colleagues, please email James Cart. Back to top.
Q: What challenges, if any, has your school encountered in doing college access work? What has Williams learned from these experiences?
A: We’re enormously proud of the Williams community, and yet we continue to address challenges in our access work. Our three biggest challenges lie in communicating with students and families about affordability, the value of a liberal arts degree, and campus location.
We know that college affordability is at the forefront of every family’s mind, and that the financial aid landscape can be a confusing one. With those challenges in mind, we are pleased to have partnered with Wellesley College to offer a Quick Cost Estimator, a calculator that takes less than two minutes to complete and gives families a sense of how affordable Williams can be.
Given the national conversation around higher education and the questions raised about the value of a college degree, it can be challenging to communicate to students and families the value of the liberal arts. We try to help students understand that a liberal arts education broadly and a Williams education specifically prepares them for a whole life, not a specific job.
Many high school students are predisposed towards colleges in large cities. We see our location and the community it creates as one of the defining parts of the Williams experience, but we know it’s not the right fit for everyone. We speak about campus location in a way that urges prospective students consider a range of schools but also emphasizes the importance of finding the right fit. Back to top.
A: Speaking of partnerships and collaborations, how has Williams developed partnerships with other schools, college access programs, organizations, universities, and others to further the college’s work?
A: We’re thrilled to partner with several college access organizations and to work with hundreds of community-based organizations (CBOs) throughout our admission process. Each year we host 25-30 CBOs on our campus and visit approximately 25 CBOs while traveling away from Williamstown. Some of our partnerships include: A Better Chance, Chicago Scholars, College Greenlight, College Horizons, NPEA, QuestBridge, Say Yes to Education, and Service to School.
Q: Stephanie, please provide a brief summary of how you came to be the Associate Director for Diversity Recruitment at Williams College. What insights have you gained from your professional trajectory?
A: Although still relatively new to my role here, I previously worked in admission at Boston University and served as the director of undergraduate student services for the School of Education as well. Throughout my time at BU I focused on diversity recruitment and retention as well as bridging the transition from admission to student affairs. Here at Williams, I work closely with colleagues across the campus to ensure that our students thrive once they are admitted. It can be easy to have tunnel vision and only stay focused on our area of expertise, but I’ve worked diligently to remain tied to professional organizations within student affairs, enrollment management, and diversity more broadly.
I believe that building relationships with colleagues has been critically important to my professional trajectory. I also firmly believe in the importance of finding the right institutional fit, not just for students but for your professional career as well. For me, I need to be able to fully support the mission of the organization, and to know the work that I am committed to doing will be equally supported by both my colleagues and the administration. For instance, creating pathways for students to learn about college early in their academic experience in middle and high school is incredibly important to me. Here at Williams, our entire staff has worked with our colleagues at CBOs and high schools to engage students in the college search process broadly, not always focusing on Williams specifically, but rather speaking with students about the importance of attending college and the value of a liberal arts education. In addition, the college puts financial resources behind all of their commitments and we are fortunate to be able to connect with students on and off-campus because of that.
If I had to give advice, I would encourage collaboration among peer institutions and organizations so that students can be exposed to as many colleges and universities as possible. The college search process is overwhelming for anyone, and it is critically important that we push ourselves to make the process manageable for students. Whether that is working with colleagues at other colleges and universities to put together programming for students and families ,or collaborating as community organizations to make the same resources available to your students, caring more about collaboration and less about competition will help all of our students as they continue to grow. Back to top.
Q: How has Williams College benefited from membership in NPEA?
A: Williams joined NPEA three years ago, and in that time we have engaged in a number of the member benefits, such as the NPEA conference, webinars, and communications. Most notably, our membership gives us an opportunity to connect and work closely with colleagues at NPEA member CBOs and nonprofits, which directly helps us recruit and retain high achieving low-income students. In addition, many of our peer institutions are members, and NPEA creates several forums for us to share best practices with one another about supporting students on our campuses. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with NPEA members in the future. Back to top.