A Recent History: Developments in Financial Aid
The current need-blind debate stems from problems that publicly arose in 2008, and has become exceedingly complicated in the past few months. The Argus has compiled a rundown of all the major events surrounding the need-blind debate in an effort to give the Wesleyan community all of the relevant information about the issue in one place.
November 25, 2008: The financial crisis had negatively impacted the University’s endowment, which over several months had decreased by approximately 20 percent to $511 million. The University estimated that at least $15 million would need to be cut from the base budget. A campus-wide email proposed a freeze on the salaries of faculty, staff, and librarians, a reduction in capital and major maintenance projects, and a rise in tuition. In the email, President Michael Roth stated that even with these cuts, need-blind admissions would remain a priority.
“We reaffirmed our priorities of protecting teaching, research, and the student experience and preserving a robust financial aid program that admits students regardless of their ability to pay,” Roth wrote in the community email. “Despite upheaval in the financial markets, Wesleyan remains well positioned to address those priorities.”
January 2009: According to then-Vice President of Finance and Administration John Meerts, the University’s deficit rose to $19 million.
February 2009: The University introduced the Voluntary Retirement Program (VRP) to encourage administrative staff with 15 years of experience to take early retirement by offering generous financial packages. The positions of employees who did retire would not be refilled.
“This is a way to avoid layoffs, by offering people a package that will allow them to start retirement earlier than they would,” Roth said at the time.
February 28, 2009: In meetings with the Board of Trustees and the Board Finance Committee, Roth discussed the possibility of reducing financial aid to transfer students should the financial crisis continue. Other proposals made by an outside consulting group, Scannell & Kurz, included “gapping,” which means offering financial aid packages that do not fully meet the demonstrated needs of students, or taking a need-aware policy for waitlisted students. Roth rejected most of these proposals and described them as too extreme.
“There are people who want to reduce financial aid,” he said. “I am very opposed to that.”
March 2009: The Board of Trustees announced that tuition for the 2009-2010 academic year increased by 3.8 percent, instead of the 5.9 percent increase proposed in December.
October 2009: The University announced a potential $3.7 million budget cut in financial aid. It also officially ended need-blind admissions for transfer students.
“Admission of transfer students is not need-blind,” said then-Economic Department Chair and Faculty Representative to the Board Finance Committee Gilbert Skillman. “This was decided by the administration as a short-run response to the budget crunch. It is not intended to be permanent. Need-blind admission is something that rich colleges do. We’re not rich. That creates a long-term budget problem.”
October 11, 2009: The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) issued a resolution opposing any reduction or moderation of the financial aid budget.
“An immediate student response is necessary when financial aid is placed on a list of potential budget cuts,” said then- WSA Representative Micah Feiring ’11, who co-wrote the resolution. “By limiting access to a Wesleyan education, a cut to financial aid would affect classes, diversity, and distort the fundamental Wesleyan principals.”
November 2009: As of late, approximately 26 unionized employees retired through the VRP, though some stated they were motivated to retire because of a fear of lay-offs.
“The main reason I took [the voluntary separation package] was concern that if I didn’t, I would get laid off anyway,” said former East Asian Studies Programs Coordinator Shirley Lawrence. “There was no guarantee that if I didn’t take it I would still have a job. It was a hard decision. I was not ready to think about leaving my position.”
November 2009: The great majority of the students who responded to a WSA-run poll opposed any proposed budget cuts to financial aid. The WSA Budget Priorities Task Force also held three open meetings to address student opinion, discuss the issue with senior administrators, and explain background information about the proposed budget cuts. Student responders supported budget cuts in other areas, such as athletics.
“The University has a responsibility to our students to ensure that any admit has a right to come here, regardless of their ability to pay,” said then-Task Force member and Finance and Facilities Committee Chair Ben Firke ’12. “And even if you aren’t on financial aid, your experience here is enriched by people who are.”
January 2010: The University Finance Office proposed budget cuts to library acquisitions and reducing funding for library resources from a five-percent increase to a three-percent increase.
February 2010: The WSA formed the Financial Aid Advisory Committee to organize discussions between students and the Office of Financial Aid.
March 2010: The Board of Trustees announced a five-percent increase in tuition for the 2010-2011 academic year and an 11-percent increase in the financial aid budget.
March 2011: Roth announced his opposition to two budget proposals for financial aid cuts, which would decrease the University’s federal Pell Grant by 15 percent. The state proposal would have cut need-based financial aid in Connecticut independent schools by 25 percent in 2012 and 50 percent in 2013.
March 2011: The Board of Trustees approved a 3.8-percent increase in tuition for the 2011-2012 academic year and an 11.8-percent increase in the financial aid budget.
February 2012: The Board of Trustees discussed new budget proposals, including cuts to financial aid.
April 24, 2012: Describing the financial aid and tuition policy as unsustainable, Roth discussed with students in an open forum the possibility of implementing a three-year graduation plan or reducing the University’s need-blind admissions policy to approximately 80 to 90 percent of all applicants. Several students criticized the lack of transparency surrounding these proposals.
“It seems like the way to prevent things like that from happening again is for students to be able to see what the budget of the school actually looks like,” Ben Doernberg ’13 said at the time. “But, frankly, this pie chart [of operating expenses] tells me absolutely nothing.”
May 27, 2012: After Wesleying reported that the need-blind policy had been changed, a group of students dropped a banner during the Commencement ceremony protesting the decision.
May 30, 2012: Roth officially announced to the University community that about 10 percent of the prospective Class of 2017 would not be admitted through need-blind admissions.
September 2, 2012: Approximately 60 students met to discuss the University’s decision to end need-blind admissions and how this would impact the University. Students also formed three different groups focusing on Media, Outreach, and Direct Action to continue the discussion about need-blind admissions on campus.
“I probably would not have applied to Wesleyan if this policy was in place,” said Leonid Liu ’14 at the time. “It’s not just because of low income, but more because of the culture of inclusivity that I really liked.”
September 3, 2012: Around 25 students gathered on Foss Hill to chalk in support of need-blind admissions.
“I think [the chalking] got people’s attention, so I think this is something people will be talking about,” said a member of the Class of 2013 who declined to be identified because of the chalking ban. “It definitely was a small first step for the Direct Action Committee, but I think it was very successful.”
September 6, 2012: Approximately 10 students dropped a banner in Usdan Café, which read “Need Blind Stays.”
“I thought that people in general reacted positively to it,” said Yona Roberts Golding ’14 at the time. “It was something I was happy to see because it was a super-public display. It was well timed because it was a really busy time at lunch, and even though they took it down, it was up long enough that people saw it. I know that a lot of students are aware of the issue, but I don’t know that everyone is, so I’m glad that it provoked conversation.”
September 14, 2012: WSA President Zachary Malter ’13 formed the Student Budget Sustainability Task Force to provide a voice for student perspectives and suggest alternative budget cuts instead of reducing the financial aid budget.
September 23, 2012: Approximately 45 students protested the lack of transparency in the decision to end need-blind admissions outside a Board of Trustees meeting. Several of the students carried a banner, which read “Bring Us Into the Conversation.” Several students also entered the meeting despite the requests of Public Safety (PSafe) officers present. The Trustees agreed to meet with students in November to continue the discussion.
“I think our goal was to demonstrate to the Board that this is an issue that students care about,” Doernberg said at the time. “That people understand that it affects them and the campus, and I think it was really effective at doing that. The Board was ready to listen to some of what we were saying… I think we got [the message] across that this is something that matters to students.”
September 24, 2012: Wesleying sponsored a student forum with Roth to continue the discussion of need-blind admissions. More than 100 students attended the forum.
“[They were] spilling out into the hallways,” Zach Schonfeld ’13 wrote in an email to The Argus. “It was a really impressive display of how much students care.”
Many students seemed pleased with Roth’s willingness to answer questions, while others felt that he had a tendency to avoid responding to key concerns raised by need-blind supporters.
September 27, 2012: Nine students had charges filed against them with the Student Judicial Board (SJB), alleging that they violated Section II, Regulations 14, Failure to Comply, and Regulation 15, Department Regulations Disruptions, of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct.
October 2, 2012: Malter and WSA Finance and Facilities Chair Andrew Trexler ’14 filed a complaint with SJB Clerk Karen Karpa arguing that the University violated Section II Regulation 12, Disruptions, of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct by filing charges against students involved in the earlier protest. The WSA endorsed portions of the complaint on Oct. 7 in the "Student Judicial Reform Resolution," which is available online at the WSA's website.
“The resolution spells out our argument for why the administration should drop the charges and should take a different approach,” Malter said at the time. “And so we’re just going to be continuing to make that case to them.”
October 9, 2012: Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Richard Culliton responded to the WSA complaint and argued that the filing of charges was not a violation of Section II, Regulation 12.
“While I cannot discuss the specifics of another student’s judicial case I wanted you to be aware that I have received the complaint and shared it with the members of the SJB,” Culliton wrote in an email to students who had signed the WSA complaint. “The disruption policy has a section which calls for complainants to contact the SJB if there is a disruption that they believe comes in conflict with the disruptions regulation and policy so that immediate action (immediate removal, suspension) can be considered without the normal process for notifying and charging students with alleged violations of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct or other University policy. The circumstances of your complaint don’t fall under the internal injunction provision outlined in the disruptions policy.”
October 18, 2012: Student protestors attended a hearing with the SJB concerning their charges. See the news article for more details on recent events.