Colleges implement need-aware admissions policies

By Hanqing Chen

Washington Square News, New York U. via UWIRE

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that many colleges facing financial trouble are coping by creating more need-aware admissions policies.

Larger private universities like Yale and Stanford have readjusted their financial algorithms to get wealthier families (incomes of $120,000 to 140,000) to pay a larger percentage of the tuition out of their own pockets. Some smaller liberal arts colleges are employing a need-blind policy during the first round of the admissions process. In subsequent rounds, they begin to consider financial need.

Even public universities, which have been losing government funding, are reaching out more to out-of-state students, who have to pay higher tuition than in-state students.

“Many colleges and universities have long had to consider tuition payment as one factor in admission decisions,” Steinhardt professor of sociology and education Richard Arum said. “It is not surprising that given current economic conditions, this practice is becoming even more prevalent.”

But Floyd Hammack, associate professor of educational sociology and higher education at Steinhardt, believes the issue is being sensationalized.

“The article makes it seem as though need-blind policies were the rule in a wide swath of American higher education,” he said. “In truth such policies have always been rare. Colleges have to have very large endowments to sustain themselves under the policy.”
NYU employs a need-blind application policy for its prospective students. It does not, however, offer need-blind financial aid to its international students.

Hammack argues that colleges are businesses requiring money to sustain themselves. Today, few colleges can exist without the help of substantial student contributions.

“For the few colleges and universities which have the resources to admit on a need-blind basis, my thinking is that it would be unethical for them not to apply that policy. Of course, they will have other objectives to achieve with their admissions in addition to an economically diverse student population — like tuba players for the band,” Hammack said.

Recently, Sewanee: The University of the South announced it would cut its annual tuition rate by 10 percent in order to meet the needs of struggling families.

“Higher education, as you know, is pricing itself beyond the reach of more and more families,” vice chancellor John McCardell said.

Hammack noted that even public institutions have to do what they must to survive.

“The continued growth of tuition, especially at public institutions, is one of the most vexing problems facing higher education today,” Hammack said. “Institutions, public or private, that are able to maintain a steady tuition rate, let alone a reduction, are going to be doing about as well as it is possible in the foreseeable future.”

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