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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

McFarlane explains univ priorities in admissions

Published: March 18, 2011
Section: Front Page

When the university announced last fall that it was altering policy to allow for the possible consideration of financial status as a factor for gaining admission, the Brandeis community found itself weighing the decision of a Brandeis office few could name on a murky topic. At this month’s faculty meeting, President Fred Lawrence suggested that the policy may not have even been needed, saying it was possible that every domestic student this year was considered without financial need as a factor.

Keenyn McFarlane is vice president of the Division of Students and Enrollment, a job he sees as one not concerned simply with financial concerns but of “leveraging all assets,” he said, “and our greatest asset is our students.”

McFarlane said that his office may largely consist of admissions oversight, including setting enrollment targets for the number of students in each successive class, “enrollment isn’t just admissions—it’s the student from prospective to alumni.”

The students and enrollment division also oversees student life, including campus amenities for current students.

“If you’re unhappy, we want to know why,” he said. McFarlane asks all students who enter his office where they live on campus and where they have ever lived; how they like club life; and what can be done about the food on campus.

And all of the on-campus matters in turn feed back into implications for admissions. For better or worse, admissions attracts and recruits based on how the Brandeis experience is, McFarlane said.

“The best thing we can do [in admissions recruitment] is be honest brokers,” he said. “We’re not just about getting ‘x’ number of students, but x number of the right—and contributing—students.”

McFarlane said that it was not university admissions’ job to recruit the 800 or so students with simply the highest GPAs or standardized test scores.

“We want x number of students at a mixed range: and that composition is composed not just of diversity,” he said, adding, “but geographically and socially—and by that I am speaking financially.”

On financial issues, McFarlane addressed the decision last year to move from need-blind admissions to the possibility of “need-sensitive,” calling it an important budget decision, but not the only one.

Despite Lawrence’s intimation that the university can both meet its financial obligations and accept a smaller class (this time referring to the smaller size of the class of ’14 compared to ’13), McFarlane said it does mean compromising a class’ economic diversity.

“Tuition, and especially undergraduate tuition, is only one line-item in a budget,” he said. “Makeup of a class has nothing to do with financial targets.”

As to need-sensitivity, he said many students are decided by too many small factors to have finances comprise a sole reason.

“You’re not going to find two identical twins,” McFarlane said, and referenced possible talented pianists or other outstanding factors. He added, “The primary thing we consider is the merit of the student,” and not simply academic merit.

Even in the first year of potential need-sensitivity, McFarlane said the policy may not have been needed.

“[In terms of the financial status of applicants,] the split of the applicants was the same,” he said.