Grinnell College Eliminates Loans from Need-based Financial Aid Packages

November 17, 2020

College to reduce student indebtedness in response to pandemic and economic uncertainty

In response to the financial hardship that many families are experiencing because of the pandemic, Grinnell College will eliminate student loans in financial aid packages and replace them with scholarships. This no-loan initiative endorsed by Grinnell College’s Board of Trustees will be effective Fall 2021 for all new and continuing students eligible for need-based financial aid and is intended to lower the debt burden on students. This will make it possible for a student to graduate debt-free, although some students may choose to borrow as part of their family’s financing plan.

“We are engaging in this initiative because we believe that education benefits not just individuals but communities and, in that benefit, is a crucial engine of democracy. Grinnell is deeply committed to preserving access to the transformative experience of a liberal arts education,” says Grinnell College President Anne F. Harris. “A Grinnell education is a shared endeavor — a partnership of Grinnell College, our students, families and alumni. We've been listening to the concerns of students and families, and this initiative will help our students as they approach graduation and face an uncertain economy.”

This initiative builds on Grinnell’s commitment to preserving academic continuity and equal access to education during this time. It is estimated that the College will spend $5 million annually on this no loan initiative. Grinnell has contributed more than $10 million this year in additional financial aid and unanticipated student needs that have arisen out of the pandemic. More than 60% of enrolled students are currently offered student loans as part of a need-based financial aid package, and in 2019, the average borrower graduated with cumulative student educational debt of approximately $20,000. The no-loan initiative is expected to decrease the average student indebtedness significantly.

Frequently Asked Questions

In response to the financial hardship that many families are experiencing because of the pandemic, beginning fall 2021 Grinnell College will eliminate student loans in financial aid packages and replace them with scholarships and grants for all students receiving need-based financial aid.

Initial financial aid packages will not include loans. Instead, the college will commit to meeting 100% of demonstrated need with the use of grants/scholarships and student employment.

Students will still have the option to borrow as part of their family financing plan if they choose.

Grinnell students and their families are laboring under the weight of this pandemic. It is clear this pandemic will have both long and short term impacts. The impact on family finances will clearly persist in the months and years ahead. Moving to a no-loan financial aid packaging initiative will also have immediate and future impact. Beginning next year, students with need-based financial aid will have more grant available to them to assist them with their educational expenses. The no-loan initiative has the potential to allow every student to graduate debt-free as they face one of the most uncertain job markets in the last century.   

This initiative builds on Grinnell’s commitment to preserving academic continuity and equal access to education during this tenuous period.

Grinnell’s initial response to the pandemic came in the form of a COVID-19 Response Grant for every student, essentially rolling back the tuition increase for this year that was approved prior to the pandemic. Additional Grinnell College financial aid was provided to meet new financial need this year and grants were awarded to replace student wages. Several students have received CARES Act funding as well. These initiatives, available to ease financial pressure this year, have not been approved for next year when the no-loan initiative will take effect.

All students with need-based financial aid — including new and current, domestic and international — are eligible for the no-loan program. Typically, students eligible for need-based financial aid will have a Grinnell Grant, Harry Hopkins Grant, or International Grant included in their financial aid package to replace their student loan.

While the no-loan initiative is a direct response to the pandemic, it is also the result of the work and findings of the Task Force on Student Financial Support and Success. Through careful stewardship of institutional resources and the generosity of our alumni and friends, we intend to retain this initiative as long as possible. All students enrolled under the no-loan initiative can expect to continue under the program until they graduate.

No, all need-based aid recipients are eligible for this benefit and will automatically receive a financial aid package that does not include a loan beginning fall 2021.

Students with need-based financial aid should expect their loan to be replaced with grant beginning in fall 2021. For most students, this represents a $3,500 - $5,500 annual increase in their grant assistance, depending on their year in college. 

The no-loan initiative will take effect fall 2021. While we are not able to forgive borrowing from prior academic years, the College will continue to offer loan reduction scholarships to select students with significant financial need upon graduation.   

Over the past year, Grinnell has contributed more than $10 million to support a variety of unanticipated student needs that have arisen out of the pandemic. The Board of Trustees approved a substantial increase in financial aid including COVID-19 Response Grants for all students, additional financial aid for students with new financial challenges, replacement of student wages with additional grant aid, technological and Wi-Fi support, and grants to provide at-home food, living, and utility relief.

Yes. The Office of Financial Aid will continue to offer loan options to families who wish to borrow as part of their college financing plan.

If you have questions about your financial aid, please contact the Office of Financial Aid.

The College has dedicated an additional $5M annually in financial aid to replace student loans with grants for students with need-based financial aid. Grinnell will fund this no-loan initiative through a reallocation of our operating budget and with the help of alumni who are interested in assisting with this important initiative.

Few colleges in the United States offer a no-loan policy. Those that offer such a program enroll many fewer students who qualify for participation. No need-blind college that meets 100% of financial need in the U.S. offers more grant assistance to students as a share of its annual operating budget than Grinnell.

Alumni and friends of the College are always delighted to hear from students who are grateful for their support. To arrange contact with a donor or to express gratitude to those who organized and supported this effort at Grinnell, please write to

Scholarships make positive change possible.

Danielle Oberlander ’21

I am an active member in the Grinnell community. I have found my passion for social justice and being an advocate for people in need. During my four years, I have felt so much support and love, which have helped me blossom into the person I am today.

Danielle Oberlander ’21
Danny Carter ’22

I am taking every opportunity that I have been granted. I am on the football team and on my way toward a double major and a concentration. I have completed a MAP [Mentored Advanced Project] and look forward to future internships made possible by Grinnell. I would otherwise not be able to afford this education. I am so grateful for my time and experience thus far.

Danny Carter ’22
Courtney Carter ’21

I love that Grinnell allows me to pursue both my passions—physics and art. I appreciate the wealth of resources Grinnell provides its students, whether this has been in the form of cost-free art supplies or scientific conference funding. I hope to pursue a research career studying the formation history of our galaxy. My dream is to become one of the only 23 Black women to hold a Ph.D. in astronomy.

Courtney Carter ’21
Rick Johnson ’21

After two younger brothers saw my financial aid package they chose to come to Grinnell too. Your support has changed the lives of my family.

Rick Johnson ’21

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