Kang: NU should practice need-blind admissions for all

Anthony Kang, Columnist

As of today, just seven U.S. universities claim to practice need-blind admissions for all applicants. Need-blind admissions is a practice where the applicants’ families income and ability to pay for college are not considered in the admissions process. Unfortunately, many universities’ claims to practice need-blind admissions seem to be illegitimate.

Sixteen wealthy U.S. private universities, including Northwestern, are being sued in federal court. The class action lawsuit alleges these schools have illegally colluded to avoid providing competitive financial aid offers to students. This is serious, but unfortunately unsurprising, as too many U.S. universities are focused on profit. For this reason, we should look at the “need-blind” label with some skepticism. That said, I still believe NU should work toward achieving need-blind admission policy as much as possible.

While NU has been increasing its budget for need-based financial aid each year, the University is still openly “need-aware” for international applicants, meaning it considers a family’s financial status during the admissions process. According to the University, this is because of “limited funding for non-domestic applicants.” Currently, NU claims to be need-blind only for U.S. citizens, permanent residents and students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. I am skeptical as to whether NU is truly “need-blind” for these students.

Despite this, I believe the next step for NU should be to expand financial aid to join the seven other schools with need-blind admissions processes for all applicants — and for them to actually mean it. While endowments don’t represent a university’s budget, NU’s endowment has grown by more than $6 billion since 2016 and has a projected endowment of about $16 billion for 2023. It is evident the University has a vast amount of financial resources it could use to increase the amount of financial aid students receive.

The biggest issue with need-aware policies is that they fundamentally harm the chances of admission for applicants who need financial aid from the University, particularly first generation, low income applicants. It is unethical to consider any applicant’s financial need in the admissions process, especially when NU has the money necessary to give out need-based aid.

There is a significantly higher percentage of domestic students receiving need-based financial aid compared to international students. From the 2017-2018 to 2021-2022 school years, about half of NU domestic students received some form of need-based financial aid. In the same five academic years, on the other hand, less than 30% of international students received some form of need-based financial aid. In addition, this data shows that a plurality of NU students receive no need-based financial aid.

Need-aware admissions policies perpetuate socioeconomic inequality in the admissions process, a process which already discriminates against FGLI students in the form of standardized testing, application fees, college credit exams, private tutors and much more. For many international FGLI students, applying to U.S. universities becomes an even more difficult process, as they often face different education standards, high competition and high transportation costs to move to the U.S. and visit home.

In the 2017-2018 academic year, the University reported spending about $177 million of its annual budget to provide need-based financial aid to students. In the four years since, the University has continued to increase spending on financial aid, having spent about $226 million for the 2021-2022 school year. Despite the increasing contribution from the budget each year, the University is spending a lower percentage of the endowment on providing need-based financial aid each year since 2019. In 2019, NU reported spending about $190 million to provide need-based financial aid and reported a $10.8 billion endowment, which represented just 1.76% of the endowment. By 2021, however, need-based aid represented only 1.41% of the endowment, as NU reported spending about $226 million to provide need-based financial aid while reporting a $16 billion endowment. Furthermore, the University’s total cost of attendance has also risen rapidly, by about $12,000 since 2018.

Although implementing need-based financial aid policies can’t fix all the systematic inequalities present in the college admissions process, it can help to make college a little more accessible for international students. The huge differences between domestic versus international NU students receiving financial aid, alongside the decreasing percentage of the endowment being spent on providing need-based financial aid, are some reasons why need-blind admissions for all applicants is imperative.

Need-blind admissions for all students — domestic and international — can make a huge impact in increasing socioeconomic diversity and helping students receive the financial aid they need to attend the University. I believe NU, with its growing endowment yet poor funding for international students, has been intentionally barring many international students from attending. The potential decision to practice need-blind admissions for everybody would have an enormous positive impact here. Furthermore, it could potentially convince other U.S. universities to do the same, leading to more socioeconomic equality in U.S. higher education.

Anthony Kang is a Communications junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.