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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Clark University No Longer Need-Blind

Published: February 28, 2014
Section: News

Clark University, located in Worcester, Mass., has recently decided to adjust its admissions policy away from the preferred need-blind method to need-aware. A need-aware policy takes the student’s ability to pay into account so that the school will not have to give as much in financial aid to students. Students first heard of the decision on Feb. 13 in an article by the Clark student newspaper, The Scarlet, a week before an email was sent by university President David Angel.

Though Angel made the final decision, he received input from the Board of Trustees, Faculty Admissions and Financial Aid Committee and the admissions staff. Many Clark students have expressed their concern about the possible effects that the change will have in the Clark community that has been known for its emphasis on making a positive impact on the community and world as evidenced by the schools motto “Challenge Convention, Change Our World.”

President Angel said that the university cannot know the exact financial aid numbers for admitted students until the fall and are sometimes forced to outspend the allocated financial aid budget, a process that Angel says is “unsustainable.” The school has then made cuts to other parts of the budget to make up for the loss. This is coming after years of costly renovations of four of the school’s nine dormitories. After multiple years of financial aid loss, Clark will have to admit some students on a need-aware basis. They will do so once the financial aid budget has been spent on previously admitted students through an initial need-blind process. It is estimated that only the final five percent of admissions decisions will be made with financial need in mind, though students are concerned of the effects on the message sent by the change.

English major Claire McDonald told GoLocal Worcester that “to eradicate this [need-blind policy] implies that the school in question is concerned not only with providing a comprehensive education to its students, but also with how much of a profit they are making from the students.”

A study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that factors including perceived prestige and admissions policy can have an effect on potential applicants. The study showed that the vast majority of high-achieving low-income students do not apply to selective colleges, though in practice these schools may be better able to assist them through their larger average financial aid packages. The study also concluded that of the small percentage of high-achieving low-income students who do apply to selective institutions, they are admitted and graduate at higher rates than others.

Adding to the increasing financial need of incoming students is the increase in size of the freshman class, due to an influx of applications. This year’s freshman class of 620 is the largest in school history, and the 7300 applications received are up 83 percent since 2011. The rate of admission has expectantly shifted downward from 70 percent two years ago to 50 percent now.

91 percent of Clark undergraduates receive financial aid for the $39,200 tuition. The school currently gives $39.9 million in aid, though that figure has risen by 29 percent, $2 million over the budget, since 2010, when Angel began his presidency. Clark’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Don Honeman reported that as much as 52 percent of collected tuition is returned to students through financial aid. President Angel believes that the change in admissions policy for a small number of applicants is a necessary evil.

“Unless we make some changes in how we approach admissions and financial aid, we would face a variety of negative choices, ranging from large tuition increases to cuts in critical programs to decreases in financial aid for enrolling students,” Angel said, as reported by Mass Live.

In response to the decision, dozens of students and alumni demonstrated outside of the admissions building.

Sociology major Ailey Wilder said, “It sets a precedent for the future about the type of people that they want to attract and the type of people that are going to school here,” reported NECN.
Political science major Bryan Diehl added, “Most students here are very uncomfortable with the fact that Clark would be looking at those who can pay rather than those who might just be more qualified to receive an education here.”

An article by U.S. News and World Report evidenced the rarity of need-blind colleges. Their study found that only 61 of 1,130 colleges studied met a student’s demonstrated financial need. Moreover, a majority, 75 percent, of these 61 schools were ranked in the top 25 of their respective category by U.S. News and World Report.

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, believes that fewer schools will have the resources to take a need-blind approach due to rising costs, diminishing state support, reduced investment and endowment income and less state and federal aid for students.

“As a result, many institutions believe they can serve students better by ensuring that there is a balance of full-paying students and students who need aid so that the institutions can be sure that they can offer sufficient aid to those who need it,” Hawkins told GoLocal Worcester.
The new policy will not take effect until the next admissions cycle begins in the fall.