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Class of 2015 mirrors diversity of past years

Published: December 2, 2011
Section: Front Page


When President Lawrence announced last spring that the class of 2015 would be accepted on a completely need-blind basis, it begged the question what the class would look like if this were the case. New Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel said that the university’s new class profile, which he will formally present at the December faculty meeting next week, almost exactly resembles that of the past three years in terms of racial and geographical diversity.

Socioeconomic diversity, a more difficult achievement at any elite institution in higher education, is more difficult to measure. But the possibility of looking at need for some students has not, apparently resulted in a narrowing of Brandeis’ class makeup.

The policy of the last few years, which Brandeis calls need-sensitive, Flagel said “for the vast majority [of students], we don’t even look at it and financial need at all.”

Still, we are not completely need-blind. “We are need-blind within our resources—there is a tiny number on the periphery where there would be some need-sensitivity,” he said. Flagel estimated that ability to pay is looked at for “most likely 1 to 2 percent, maybe as high as 5 percent” of the 850 students.

The decision to look at some students’ ability to pay may conflict with the goals of the institution: admitting the most qualified student regardless of how many will need aid under all circumstances or allowing funds to go to aiding all of those who are accepted.

Flagel is committed to “allowing every qualified student who is admitted to Brandeis to come here,” which he admitted is different than saying Brandeis admitted every qualified student.

But Flagel says that is the point—no university accepts every “our-school qualified” student, and added that qualified is a malleable term.

It does not exactly mean accepting the “smartest” applicants—“If this was a simple matter of IQ and test scores, then we wouldn’t need an admissions office at all, we’d simply dump them in a computer,” Flagel said.

Brandeis balances academic merit with a Brandeis-specific fit, incorporating many personal or leadership skill factors, so even the students at the very last admissions process are never not admitted for sheer inability to pay, but usually for other factors. “There could be a very brilliant racist out there—very brilliant,” Flagel said, “but who would not be a very good fit for Brandeis.”

Being “need-sensitive” does not harm finding the “best possible class,” as Flagel puts it; the actual determination of deciding who is fit to attend Brandeis and is offered admission is both complex—and simple.

While being “just too hard for a computer to do,” Flagel said the applicant pool could be divined by someone “just from meeting and getting to know 20 of our students.” If the average student picked about a third of the applicant pool as fit to attend, they would probably do about as well as the admissions office. Need-sensitivity does not change the missions of the institution.

Even “need-blind includes self-help,” says Flagel, as it includes student work-study and loans. What Brandeis’ policy means is that, in order to be able to aid those who do come here, the ability to pay is considered as one factor out of money to make the best class available.

Flagel considers Brandeis a step above truly need-aware schools, because at Brandeis, “If there is a student who truly identifies with the school mission and values he may get in regardless of his ability to pay.”

The issue of becoming more economically diverse and representing a broader portion of the country’s citizens is still on Flagel’s mind. He said that the increased outreach and recruiting will undergo in the coming years should help. “We are doing well on diversity, but not as well as I would like,” he said, “And we lag behind some of our competitors,” citing Emory, GW, Tufts and Brown.

But some of that, he said, is due to lack of aid funds or having a larger pool of students they accept; according to Flagel, for instance, “GW accepts students we wouldn’t even look at.”

The senior vice president said this increases Brandeis’ representativeness, though, in terms of fairly having students of all backgrounds, is important for the university’s famous social justice ethos.

“Having been founded in answer to inequity, in that spirit one should be judged on one’s merit.” Brandeis, by founding ideology, should be serious about diversity “and that includes socioeconomic background,” Flagel said.

The mission now, especially since President Fred Lawrence’s busy first-year efforts to sell the school, is to showcase “what is exceptional here,” he added, and predicted that “we will see a transformation in terms of the expansion of who we are as a brand” as well as celebrity.

“Our brand is excellent, but now nearly as well-known as we ought to be—but most of our competitors are primarily because of their sports teams,” Flagel said ironically. “I love the Judges, but I’m not counting on a Final Four appearance,” he said. In five to 10 years, however, an increase in the Brandeis name-recognition will be “an undisputed outcome,” Flagel declared.