Colleges Drop Need-Blind Financial Aid

Colleges Drop Need-Blind Financial Aid

Cooper Union, a highly selective university that admits only 4% of applicants, just announced that for the first time in 110 years, that it will be charging tuition due to financial difficulties. Students today are staging a barricade of an academic building in protest.

Wesleyan University recently announced that it will be eliminating its need-blind financial aid policy. Colleges with need-blind financial aid admit students without consideration of their families’ financial circumstances. Colleges with need-aware financial aid policies consider family financial circumstances when making admissions decisions.

Wesleyan, an elite liberal arts college, was one of the few institutions that practiced need-blind financial aid. But, with shrinking endowments, more students requesting financial, and increasing tuition, Wesleyan is scrambling.

But Wesleyan isn’t the only college revamping its financial aid process to survive the economic storm. Williams College and Middlebury College have dropped their need-blind policies for international students and students placed on waiting lists. Cornell University, once one of the few schools participating in the loan-free movement, now includes loans in financial aid packages for students whose families make over $60,000 per year.

Grinnell College, whose per student endowment is ranked in the top 10 in the nation, is reconsidering its need-blind policy. Grinnell College President Dr. Raynord Kington said in the New York Times that the college will increase its focus on recruiting top students who have the ability to pay.

So what do these changes mean?

For Wesleyan, the changes might not mean much. Wesleyan includes loans in the financial aid packages for students whose families make more than $40,000 per year. Students could be admitted to the college but then receive a financial aid package filled with loans that would make attending impossible. By becoming need-aware, Wesleyan is simply becoming more transparent about the policies that have been in place for years.

The new tuition policy at Cooper Union will a profound impact on the institution. The college was founded upon the principle that education should be accessible to all. Tuition, which is valued at about $37,000 per year will no longer be full funded. Students say the college is violating its own mission.

For Williams and Middlebury, this change has obviously had an impact on the diversity amongst international students. The competition for international students in need of financial aid is fierce. Some five times harder than admission for domestic students.

But at Grinnell, the change represents a shift in the way colleges are beginning to think about financial aid. The college currently spends 60% of its budget on financial aid with more than 90% of students on some form of financial aid. Grinnell College president Dr. Kington called the current spending unsustainable in the long term. As a result, the college will likely reduce the percentage of students on financial aid. This could put a devastating dent in diversity at the college.

The new policy will obviously reduce the number of low and middle income students but will also likely reduce the number of minority students at the college given the high correlation between race and income.

More and more colleges, the vast majority of whom have much smaller endowments than Grinnell, will likely move in a similar direction. Only time will tell how students will feel these effects.

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