Editorial: Schools should make clear how finances affect applications
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 22:10
Last week it was revealed that George Washington University’s need-blind policy wasn’t completely blind. Like a lot of colleges, GW professed a need-blind policy when it came to admissions. This meant that a student’s ability to pay or how much financial aid they require would not be factored into the admissions decision. Administrators revealed that that ability to pay was taken in to consideration for admissions decisions and did affect students who would go from accepted to wait listed based on the university’s ability to afford it.
The university clarified, saying financial need was not considered during the first round of reading applications. However, prior to notifying applicants, the university examines its financial aid budget and decides which students it can actually afford to admit. As stated in the GW Hatchet, Laurie Koehler, the newly hired associate provost for enrollment management, said, “We have our internal preliminary decision of admit or wait list or deny, and then we run the numbers and then we go, ‘Okay, we have to do a little bit of shuffling here.’” She also stated that the decision only affects students not among GW’s top applicants.
It is understandable for GW and other universities and colleges to have a “need-aware” admissions policy. Some schools can only afford a certain number of students and this is reflected in their endowments. According to the GW Hatchet, GW has an endowment of around $1.37 billion. While that may seem like a lot, it is relatively small compared to schools like Northwestern, which has $7.1 billion in endowment, or Ivy League schools. A university may only be able to afford a certain amount of students and thus may need to take financial status into consideration.
This issue comes when students apply to a university with the expectation that their financial situation will not harm them. George Washington University spokeswoman Candace Smith, as noted in the GW Hatchet, argued that labeling the admission policy as need-blind or need-aware was not “intentionally misleading.”
“It’s still the same process, but it’s a matter of one person defining it one way and one person defining it another way,” Smith said.
The problem with this is that a label of need-blind insinuates that financial status plays absolutely no role in the admissions decision at any point, not just in the preliminary application process. It was wrong of GW to characterize itself as need-blind and unfair to prospective students. Moving forward, it should be made very clear to prospective applicants how financial status is taken into consideration in the admissions process.