In light of the global economic downturn and the University’s attempts to make reductions to its budget, it was only a matter of time before the administration would begin to consider financial aid cuts as a cost-savings measure. Last month, the administration announced that transfer students would no longer be reviewed by admissions on a need-blind basis.
Wesleyan is not the only school confronting a crisis of conscience over need-blind admissions. Since the end of the 1960s, when colleges began implementing need-blind admissions, colleges have had to reassess the financial realities of this policy every time a downturn has arrived. The current recession has proven to be no exception.
Middlebury, for one, has taken the same approach as Wesleyan. The school recently announced that their need-blind policy would no longer include international and transfer students.
“It is a change,” said Bert Phimmey, Associate Director of Admissions at Middlebury. “Since the economy collapsed.”
According to Phimmey, financial need will remain as one of the last factors considered for transfer or international applicants.
“Need is one of the last things we look at,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have money available, but we have limited funds available for those groups.”
Despite the recession, Amherst and Williams will continue to offer need-blind admissions to all applicants.
“We became fully need-blind for international students one year ago,” said Katie Fretwell, Director of Admissions at Amherst. “That’s still a relatively new policy for us.”
Then again, there are plenty of schools that have never been need blind but still claim to admit applicants based on academic merit over their ability to pay tuition.
“Smith is not need-blind,” said Karen Kristof, Senior Associate Director of Admissions. “Smith is need-aware for all our groups. That means we take financial need into consideration at some point in the process.”
Meanwhile, Tufts is striving to introduce a need-blind policy, despite the economic downturn.
“We are implementing a need-blind policy as the resources are raised via our ongoing capital campaign,” said Patricia Reilly, Director of Financial Aid at Tufts. “During the transition, all applications are reviewed using need-blind practices but, in any given year, a small percentage of the final decisions may depend on the availability of aid.”
Tufts is slightly behind the times. Need-blind was developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The goal was to actively increase socioeconomic diversity and minority enrollment in the student body.
For William Chace, Wesleyan’s unpopular president at the turn of the 1990s, need-blind admissions was always the means to the end, rather than an end in itself.
“Need-blind is one of the most effective tools in creating a diverse student body,” Chace told the Argus in a March 29, 1991 article. “However the aim is not need-blind, that is the instrument.”
At the time, Chace was in the process of secretly eliminating need-blind admissions. When the decision came to light, the ensuing controversy led to the reinstatement of Wesleyan’s need-blind policy.
In 1982, anticipating a national recession, the Board of Trustees limited student aid to 10 percent of the general budget. The goal was to reduce the number of students receiving aid by about 20 percent and to eventually phase out need-blind admissions all together. Federal aid remained stable that year, however, and the economy turned around soon afterward.
While need-blind endured, the future was—and remains—murky.
“[Need-blind admissions] is not something that is in imminent danger” Director of Financial Aid Ed Below told The Argus in 1991. “I couldn’t say whether we’re going to have need-blind admissions in the year 2000. That’s something that’s too far to tell, but in the next two or three years I don’t see that changing.”