It was recently revealed that George Washington University changed their school’s admission policy from “need-blind” to “need-aware,” meaning students in need of financial assistance who may otherwise meet admissions standards may be scaled down from “admitted” to “waitlisted.”
The GW Hatchet, the university’s student newspaper, highlights that this new decision affects up to 10 percent of the university’s 22,000 applicants every year.
While the university’s officials attempted to abate this fact by citing that it is only during the final process of consideration that financial need is accounted for, the trend of “need-aware” universities has risen, especially among private universities that cannot compete with Ivy League financial aid packages, according to the GW Hatchet article.
We at City on a Hill Press think this rising trend of “need-aware” universities drives schools toward becoming institutions of wealth and privilege rather than being accessible to all deserving students, regardless of socioeconomic status. Disfavoring low-income students can in turn disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, resulting in a lack of both economic and ethnic diversity among universities.
Universities that previously pledged their dedication to remain “blind” to financial aid recently backed away from their commitment to be more inclusive. For decades, Wesleyan University remained one of the few dozen elite colleges promising to meet the need of any financial student, but has turned on its promise within the past year due to tough economic times.
It’s not just universities like George Washington and Wesleyan that are denying admission to low-income students. Public universities are leaving these students behind as well.
Public universities have historically been founded to offer students access to an affordable college education. However, public education is finding itself less reliant on government funding, which in turn places the burden on students.
An analysis from the U.S. Department of Education shows from 1996–2012 public colleges and universities gave a declining portion of grants to students in the lowest quartile of family income.
Schools prioritize revenue generation, proven by their efforts to attract wealthier students, especially those who will pay out-of-state tuition. This preference is evident in our own university.
UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal cited increasing the number of non-resident undergraduates as a goal for fall 2013 admissions. Offers of admission to non-resident international students made up 16.4 percent of all admissions.
While it’s important to attract geographic diversity by accepting more international students, it’s more important to note the main reason why universities favor them — they pay more tuition and generate more revenue.
California historically devotes itself to accessible public education. The California Master Plan was initially developed in 1960 to establish the principle of tuition-free education to in-state residents. Since then, it devolved due to reductions in state funds and ended its no-tuition policy. However, it claims to compensate for this loss by accompanying substantial increases in financial need.
While there have been some strides in California’s higher education system, the truth is many low-income students are burdened with California’s fiscal situation. Overall, the federal government spent $2.2 billion less on Pell Grants, a need-based grant available to low-income students in the 2012 fiscal year, even though its number of recipients increased by 58,000. This means lower-income students previously benefiting from this grant are now seeing smaller awards.
Universities nationwide are struggling to offer assistance for all deserving students as the country continues to face deep federal budget deficits. However, it’s no excuse — both private and public universities should renew their commitment to providing accessible and affordable education that reflects a socioeconomically diverse student body.