WU financial aid may be on the “Honor Roll,” but need-blind admissions should be a priority

The Princeton Review recently ranked Washington University fourth in the nation for financial aid, making it one of 13 universities in the nation that belong to the “financial aid honor roll.”

We feel that this ranking, for what it’s worth, is appropriate—Washington University has demonstrated a real commitment to ensuring that students from modest backgrounds are able to attend the University and has gone above and beyond its peer institutions by taking changes in family circumstances into account upon students’ requests and offering several merit scholarships of its own design.

Even in these tough economic times, the University has been successful in maintaining its high level of financial aid. However, the administration must not became complacent and should continue to strive for an ultimate goal of need-blind admissions.

Currently, Washington University is very public about the fact that it meets 100 percent of all students’ demonstrated need. That is, the demonstrated need of all of the students it admits. Wash. U., though it may be stellar in providing financial aid to those students it takes, still takes need into account when admitting first-year students.

What this means in practice is that the University fills the first part of each freshman class—the most talented, desirable applicants—without regard to their ability to pay. As the class begins to fill up, however, the admissions officers make decisions at the margin and are more likely to admit a student who has not applied for financial aid over an equally qualified student who has.

We feel that not having a need-blind admissions policy enhances an already-unfair divide between students of privilege and those who come from modest means—the former group has access to better schools and test prep services, and the latter group must often struggle to make themselves shine as applicants given their circumstances.

The recent actions of WU/FUSED have demonstrated that the student body both wants and needs more socioeconomic diversity—the diversity that comes when students are admitted without regard to their ability to pay. The University can, and should, make the adoption of a need-blind admissions policy a long-term policy goal.

When asked about financial aid, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton maintained that the University will continue to do what it sees as best for its general well-being, saying, “We have an aspiration to do the best we can to become the highest-quality, highest-impact university.” We urge the chancellor and the administration to acknowledge that, on principle, a high-quality university should admit students on their ability to contribute to the University, with no recognition of financial need.

Although the economy is turbulent, we feel that a need-blind admissions policy should be a stated long-term goal of the administration, announcing the University’s commitment to fair opportunity for all and its recognition that socioeconomic diversity enhances the character of our experiences here.

While we are proud of the Princeton Review ranking, we feel that there is still much to be done with Wash. U.’s financial aid policies before our University truly deserves to be on an honor roll. In our minds, the University will not deserve to be at the top of the rankings for the quality of its financial aid until it is need-blind.

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