There has been a substantial buzz on campus in the last two weeks about the matriculation data for the Class of 2017. We have talked about numbers and significant differences, about trends and unfulfilled commitments. The conversation among the new class itself, however, has taken a different tone. For them, these aren’t just numbers.
During lunch with a freshman the first week of classes, I asked him what the frosh were talking about in the context of need-blind. Over meals my first semester, we had spoken often about the grueling application process, the bleeding-heart essays, the cherished acceptance letter that we had had printed on our brand-new Twin XL sheets so that we could sleep under the warmth of our triumph. Many of us hadn’t known much about the politics of applying—not back then—and so I was surprised to hear that this freshman very much did.
He hadn’t applied for aid.
That statement in itself, even out of the context of finances, is a scary one. It is stating that one doesn’t want or need help, even though help is (ostensibly) offered. Some among us are lucky enough to make that choice with certainty, knowing that whatever we have is enough to carry us through. But this stranger on the other side of the table openly expressed that he did want and need and merit aid—he feared that Wesleyan would not, knowing this, want him. Even more disturbingly, he shared that a number of his hallmates and other friends had done the same thing.
According to this story and others, it is not one or five or ten but dozens of students whose families are more burdened by the Wesleyan education than even the financial aid calculations would say they should be, because a “Yes” from Wes was worth $60,000 dug from the very bottom of their families’ pockets. Poorer and middle class students, whom the administration has tried to help by decreasing the rate of tuition increases, are feeling the cost of Wesleyan more than ever. And as a student whose family has struggled to pay for Wesleyan even on (what once seemed like) an immense amount of grant aid, I can’t say I wouldn’t have made the same choice.
There are other stories coming from the Class of 2017. One story is that of students who applied early decision, despite their hesitation to commit so early in the college-courting season, in order to decrease the likelihood of their finances playing a major role. Another doubt, voiced less often in the larger discussions but nonetheless a part of the experience for some, wonders, “If Wes were still need-blind, would I have gotten in?” And of course, the story we can’t always hear takes place only on pre-college message boards: It is the story of students who felt unwelcome, and didn’t apply. We will never know these students, who should have been our roommates, our team mates, and our peers.
Our university is a very different place for the Class of 2017, not simply because of a decline in numbers or an altered education both in and out of the classroom. The first encounter with Wesleyan for the freshman class, and the classes after it, involves very real doubts about the priorities of this institution. The decision to be need-blind is real, it is impacting students now, and its effects are not limited to only the least privileged or even to the freshman class.
As of now, there is no defined plan to return to need-blind. There is no answer to these stories. Some of our anger and disappointment would be different if the need-aware decision were to be re-evaluated on a year-to-year basis or even five years from now. But as it is, if the student body and the alumni forget what was done and don’t apply pressure as the University reaches a better financial standing, need-blind may never return. The discussion could end with the graduation of the Class of 2016, the last class entered without specific regard for their ability to pay. The burdens that have traditionally been faced by our international and transfer students at admission will persist as a reality for all.
I encourage everyone to share their stories of how the need-aware discussion has affected you, whether with The Argus, President Roth, Dean Meislahn, the University Archives, the WSA, the Trustees, or your peers in late-night talks on Foss. Hearing these stories rekindled my commitment to keep this issue on my mind, this year and in the years to come. In putting a face on the need-aware decision, you remind us all that we must not forget—that only by holding the University accountable year after year can we ensure that future classes of Wesleyan students don’t have to choose between education they deserve and the aid that they need.
Updegrove is a member of the Class of 2014.