Laura Varlas

Colleges Less Need-Blind Due to Budget Shortfalls

The New York Times reports that economic hard times, exacerbated by winnowing endowments, mean colleges are losing their ability to accept more applicants on a need-blind basis. Need-blind means that a potential student's ability to pay tuition does not factor into the decision to accept their application. Some more affluent colleges can claim to be fully need-blind. Most colleges designate a portion of applicants as need-blind, becoming more need-aware as budgets and financial aid run in the red.

The NYT reports that this year, more colleges will "more inclined to accept students who do not apply for aid, or whom they judge to be less needy based on other factors, like ZIP code or parents' background." Without adequate resources to fund need-blind compliance, colleges are looking more favorably on early-decision students who can pay full tuition. On the one hand, these full-paying students allow colleges to offer more financial aid to the neediest students. On the other hand, the NYT reports:

"There's going to be a cascading of talented lower-income kids down the social hierarchy of American higher education, and some cascading up of affluent kids," said Morton Owen Schapiro, the president of Williams College and an economist who studies higher education.

The NYT also reports that limiting need-blind policies means a less socioeconomically diverse student body. Of students who can afford full tuition, Steven Syverson, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, said, "We're only human. They shine a little brighter."

"You can't say someone should be need-blind unless they have the resources to fund it," said Dr. Schapiro, at Williams. "It sounds immoral to replace really talented low-income kids with less talented richer kids, but unless you're a Williams or an Amherst, the alternative is the quality of the education declines for everyone."

How can colleges respond to budget shortfalls while ensuring that lower-income students have access to higher education?

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