Coline McEachern and Anna Tjeltveit, members of The Wesleyan Democratic Socialists at Wesleyan University, hang a sign inside the Usdan University Center. Greg Miller / Connecticut Public

As the cost of higher education continues to rise and student loan debt remains a major concern for federal and local lawmakers, some universities are working to make post-secondary education more affordable.

Wesleyan University recently joined at least 40 other colleges across the country that have either entirely, or partially, taken steps to eliminate loans from their financial aid packages. 

With tuition and other fees, the university cost more than $88,000 to attend in the 2023-24 school year. After financial aid, on average, families are left to pay around $21,000 out of pocket, according to 2020-21 data from the U.S. Department of Education. By next fall, however, Wesleyan will “meet all students’ demonstrated financial needs without the burden of borrowing,” the university said in a news release.

“Having already eliminated loans for highly aided students, this should help middle-income families eligible for financial aid find Wesleyan more affordable. We are improving the University’s financial aid offerings to be able to build and maintain a dynamically diverse community, including socioeconomic diversity,” said President Michael S. Roth. “From free computers to enhanced health insurance coverage, Wesleyan is making its education more accessible. We have also committed to increasing the percentage of the University’s overall budget dedicated to financial aid.”

Yale and Connecticut College are two other Connecticut-based higher education institutions that have made similar decisions. Yale eliminated student loans in 2008 and Connecticut College also has eliminated or reduced loans based on family income.

Most universities in the state, however, have maintained the option for students. The University of New Haven and University of Connecticut, for example, have decided not to take on the no-loan policy.

Spokespeople for both universities told the Connecticut Mirror that they have not eliminated student loans from financial aid packages and did not have plans to eliminate them from future packages.

Officials at Fairfield University, Post University, Quinnipiac University, Sacred Heart University, the University of Hartford and Trinity College did not respond to requests for comment.

Overall, 15% of Connecticut residents have student loan debt, according to a 2022 report from the Office of Fiscal Analysis and Office of Legislative Research. There are 540,900 borrowers that average around $35,681 in student loan debt each — totaling around $19.3 billion statewide.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled against President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan that would have allowed an individual who earned less than $125,000 a year or couples who earned under $250,000 to receive $10,000 in loan forgiveness, which could have aided around 321,000 Connecticut residents who applied for the program.

In Connecticut, the state legislature also set forth initiatives to ease the growing burden on borrowers in the state, including a $6 million investment over two years to establish a pilot program to reimburse qualifying residents up to $20,000 for student loan payments. The budget implementer also included provisions that would create a student loan ombudsman’s office and expand a state registry for student loan servicers to include subservices of these loans. 

In the 2023-24 school year, Wesleyan gave students over $76 million in grants, and officials at the university said the amount is expected to “grow by a few million dollars when this policy goes into effect,” but did not specify by how much.

“For students impacted by this policy change, they will no longer see loans in their financial aid offers beginning in fall 2024, but there will be no retroactive changes to loans borrowed in previous years,” said Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid. “Students will be responsible for repayment on loans borrowed prior to fall 2024. We believe this impact will be significant for families who have felt the burden of borrowing in prior years.”

At Yale, the undergraduate financial aid budget for the 2022–23 academic year was $224 million, which is over three times the size of their budget from 15 years ago and serves about 53% of undergraduate students. 

The decision from Wesleyan comes about two months after it announced it was ending its legacy admissions process. It is also another step toward what Gonzalez and Roth, in a joint statement, called the importance of building “a diverse, energetic learning environment comprised of people who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit."

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.