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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Admissions may adopt ‘need-sensitive’ approach

Published: September 3, 2010
Section: Front Page

The Brandeis faculty Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid announced Thursday that a partial transition of undergraduate admissions from “need-blind” to “need-sensitive” would be permissible “after all available financial aid is exhausted.”

The committee chair Professor Steven Burg (POL), who made the announcement at Thursday’s faculty meeting, stressed that such measures should only be used as a last resort and that a need-blind admissions policy should remain a “core value of the institution.”

Currently, university admissions are only need-aware for international students and students on the wait-list–a practice common at other top-tier universities. However, the university has been staunchly need-blind for all other applicants, and currently 75 percent of students receive some form of financial aid. Though Burg’s announcement is only a recommendation which would need to be approved by Admissions in order to be adopted, the university has never put the idea of considering an applicant’s financial needs during the admissions process on the table until now.

In an interview with The Hoot, Burg was adamant that if the admissions process were to become “need-sensitive,” it would not automatically decline students with financial need, and would instead use a formula to calculate a student’s needs (potentially based on their race, Grade Point Average and high school performance) and set it against the university’s capacity for aid.

“The term ‘need-sensitive’ is distinct from ‘need-aware’ in that the admissions committee never actually sees financial aid information, it’s behind a firewall,” Burg explained.

The recommendations also argue that this should only be done once “all available financial aid” is used, meaning money would potentially run out after the most sought-after students are already accepted, regardless of need. Already, Admissions has a master list of the most desired applicants, with the term a loose one to include not only academic performance but the university’s diversity and character attributes it looks for in students.

The recommendations are meant to address a “three-pronged problem,” Burg said. “Our aid funds have been inadequate; there are negative effects on matriculation rates when students are accepted and cannot attend because of [unmet] need; and yet still keep our firm commitment to need-blind admissions.” This would explain, he said, the firm wish for the timing of switching to acknowledging need and the firewall differing between the model they use to estimate need and true “awareness.”

“This is a much fairer way than need-aware,” Burg said. “Our goal is to recruit the best class possible every year, regardless of need, and one of the biggest factors in deciding whether or not to come here is financial.”

The office of Admissions will determine the consequences of the recommendations later in the year, but need-sensitivity may begin with the class of 2015.