Wesleyan, Other Top Schools Modify Financial Aid Policies
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 14:10
Wesleyan University has been in the news recently for dropping its “need-blind” admissions policy in the face of hard economic times. The change follows the example of other top universities in recent years, and has prompted worry among students who are unable to pay for college on their own.
Need-blind refers to the policy of many top colleges to admit students without factoring in their abilities to pay for tuition and the guarantee that 100 percent of a student’s financial need will be met by the college in some way.
Since the recession hit, however, many schools have been forced to consider whether they can afford to give as much financial aid as they have in the past. Some of the country’s wealthiest colleges, including Wesleyan, Williams and Middlebury, have been modifying their aid policies.
Schools continue to be affected by financial strain. “We will be as need-blind as we can afford to be,” said Wesleyan President Michael Roth, claiming that making budget cuts elsewhere would have too great a negative impact on educational quality. The school has received backlash, however, from students and alumni who argue that having a socio-economically diverse learning community is essential to quality education.
Smith is need-aware, meaning that an applicant’s ability to pay is taken into account in the admission process. Many students remain unaware of this, given Smith’s status as an elite college and its dedication to diversity. Like other schools, however, the recession has impacted Smith’s admissions.
“We try to be as need-blind as possible, but have been more need-aware since the recession began,” said Dean of Enrollment Audrey Smith.
After the decline in the endowment in 2008, “one of the few budget areas in the college to be spared from cuts was the financial aid budget,” Smith explained. “We affirmed our commitment to meeting the full demonstrated need of our students and to maintaining an economically diverse student body.” Last year, 64 percent of Smith students received financial aid, with 24 percent receiving Pell Grants: federal grants that typically go to students with the most need.
While Smith will likely continue to make aid a priority, the college is focused on long-term financial sustainability. President Christ’s Future Initiatives – a framework created by seniors in leadership roles for facing the realities of higher education in the coming decades – developed in 2010-2011, includes a “Financial and Enrollment Model.” The model include plans to “Assess the budget implications and strategic uses of … admissions selectivity [and] competitiveness of aid packages,” and “Assess strategies and the investment necessary to increase the enrollment of full-pay and low-need students, underrepresented minority students and international students.”