In some ways, these two goals seem to be in direct opposition to each other. How can a college keep its head above the water if it’s bleeding money to provide every student’s full financial need? And on the other hand, how can a school maintain student diversity if it excludes students who require financial aid or admits such students but fails to provide the necessary aid?
This is where strategic enrollment strategy comes in, and a big part of it involves “need-blind” policies. “Need-blind” means that the school takes no account of students’ financial situations when making admittance decisions. A good many schools advertise a need-blind policy in order to attract students from underrepresented groups such as low-income families, minorities, and first-generation college goers.
This seems to go over well with donors and students alike. According to an article run online by Inside Higher Ed, Hamilton College raised $40 million to fund their need-blind policy in half the time projected, largely through alumni support. Vassar, who recently re-adopted a need blind policy, saw applications from minorities double; the school has also increased its offers of admission and improved its enrollment numbers.
On the other end of the spectrum are schools like Macalester College, who have dropped their need-blind policies in order to ensure full access to the lower income students they do admit. The idea is that need-blind doesn’t necessarily give a boost to low-income students if A) they still get passed over during the selection process or B) the school doesn’t have enough money to cover their financial need.
It’s true that since dropping the need-blind policy Macalester’s tuition has increased dramatically. However, so has the amount of money going to financial aid, both need-based and non-need based. The average size of the school’s merit scholarships has nearly tripled since dropping the need-blind policy.
This is good news for students whose families don’t show significant financial need but are not so well off that footing a one to two hundred thousand dollar bill isn’t an issue. With competition for talented students heating up, schools often rely on these non-need based scholarships to attract students who can pay at least some of the school’s tuition. Indeed, such students are a key demographic in many enrollment strategies.
When compiling a college list, it is important to take into account a college’s financial aid and admission policies and ask questions which could include the following:
- What percentage of financial need is filled by the college?
- How much of the financial need is filled by grants (money that doesn’t need to be paid back)?
- What percentage of the students receive merit based scholarship (money that isn’t required to be paid back)?
- What is the average size of the merit based scholarship?
Inside higher ed article: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/07/21/what-happens-when-colleges-drop-need-blind-admissions