Bienen: NU committed to need-blind admissions

Nathalie Tadena

Northwestern’s admissions policies can afford to leave students’ finances out of the equation.

With an endowment of several billion dollars, NU ranks among the country’s wealthiest universities and, unlike some schools, has not had to change admissions policies to reflect the economic downturn, said Michael Mills, associate provost for university enrollment.

“We are in rarefied company in terms of our resources to read applications need-blind,” he said. “Colleges unlike Northwestern that are much more dependent on tuition revenue would be ‘need-aware’ in their admissions. We’re lucky because most of the colleges and universities in the country don’t have the resources to be unconcerned about that.”

NU will continue to meet 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated financial need, Mills said. This is the first academic year NU has implemented its no-loan and loan-cap policies.

Future University President Morton Schapiro warned, with the current economic downturn, that students’ income levels will become a more deciding factor in college admissions, according to a March 30 New York Times article.

“There’s going to be a cascading of talented lower-income kids down the social hierarchy of American higher education, and some cascading up of affluent kids,” he said in the article.

But University President Henry Bienen said students applying to NU do not need to worry about financial aid.

“We increased tuition 3.6 percent, but we increased the financial aid budget 10 percent, so that was a signal that we’re committed to need-blind admission, that we want an economically diverse population,” Bienen said in an April 16 interview with The Daily. “We want the people who get into Northwestern to be able to come here irrespective of family income.”

Roger Kaufman, an economics professor at Smith College who specializes in the economics of higher education, said the number of need-blind schools is likely to decrease in future years.

“There is a long-term sustainability problem when costs are going up faster than tuition, revenues and gifts,” he said. “Schools that relied on their endowment to pick up the slack are in trouble because endowments have already taken a big hit. It’s forcing a lot of universities to look more at financial incomes (of applicants).”

Tufts University does not have a need-blind admission policy but was able to make all of its admissions decisions using need-blind practices in 2007 and 2008, wrote Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler in an e-mail.

“A top priority for Tufts University’s capital campaign is to be able to implement a need-blind admission policy,” Thurler wrote. “We have been unable to announce a formal change in our need-sensitive admission policy and will be unable to do so until we have secured sufficient endowed funds to make such a policy sustainable.”

This year, as in the previous two years, Tufts was able to evaluate all of the undergraduate applications using need-blind practices. However, Tufts exhausted its financial aid budget after selecting 95 percent of the incoming freshmen class. As a result, the admissions committee turned to “need-sensitive” admission practices when determining the final 200 acceptances, Thurler wrote.

While funding financial aid continues to be a concern for colleges and universities, many will still pursue initiatives to promote socioeconomic and racial diversity.

“A lot of schools are reluctant to reduce the number of minorities and first-generation college kids, but some middle-class kids who need partial scholarships may be hurt,” Kaufman said.

In spite of the economic downturn, NU plans to maintain its need-blind admissions policy in the future.

“It’s such an important principle to our alumni that if we ever faced that possibility (of turning to need-aware admissions), they would rally and donate like crazy,” Mills said.

There hasn’t even been “a breath of conversation” about turning away from need-blind policies, Bienen said.

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s the last thing to go,” he said. “There are lots of other things I would give up before need-blind admission.”

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