A need-blind admissions policy means that applicants are selected without consideration of their ability to pay for college. Few universities abide by such a policy. Of the 1,130 colleges and universities that reported fall 2012 financial aid, only 61 said they met 100 percent of demonstrated need, according to a U.S. News survey.
Many schools cannot afford to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need while paying for other university essentials, many of which require a large endowment. Instead, most colleges are need-aware and consider financial need when deciding which students to accept.
To clarify, George Washington University should not be lambasted for exercising a need-aware admissions policy. If a school does not have the financial resources to support a candidate who requires assistance, it simply may not be economically feasible to accept him or her. Misleading applicants from low-income families, however, into thinking that they have an equal chance of admission is morally repugnant. George Washington was likely attracted to the prestige, higher acceptance rate and higher yield provided by the charade of the need-blind tag.
Duke’s current admissions policy also claims to be need-blind for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and the University affirms that the admissions and financial aid processes are entirely separate. We trust that Duke is sticking to its word. Duke does not have the endowment sum of many of its peers who offer need-blind admissions though. If the University ever faces a situation in which it is unable to provide admissions on a need-blind basis, we implore the administration to be open and honest for the sake of the institution’s credibility and honor.
The benefits of an explicit need-blind policy are significant, and we are strongly in favor of maintaining such a policy at the possible expense of new facilities and programs in marginal circumstances. Need-blind policies support a broader social goal of making higher education accessible for all students. Knowing that hard work in high school truly pays off is heartening for many students, given the number of barriers to attending college that low-income students already face. Additionally, a university in which students are exposed to a wide array of backgrounds will provide students with a fuller range of social experiences and, hopefully, produce empathetic graduates with a strong understanding of different upbringings, circumstances and cultures.
Clear financial temptations exist for universities like Duke to draw back from a need-blind admissions policy. Even with strict rules separating the admissions and financial aid processes, certain information that is available to admissions officers, like a candidate’s ZIP code or first-generation status, have the potential to be used as proxies for socioeconomic status. While Duke publicly proclaims a need-blind policy, it must avoid the lure of using these data to screen for a candidate’s ability to pay. We are hopeful that Duke will continue to make financial aid and need-blind status an institutional priority.