Staff editorial: Need-blind admissions a necessity, not an ‘ideal’

Last week, Chancellor Mark Wrighton called a need-blind admissions process “an ideal we can work towards,” explaining that switching to a need-blind process would be a fiscally challenging policy for Washington University, requiring a $1 billion increase from the current $7.5 billion endowment for more financial aid. Provost Holden Thorp emphasized that the decision to transition to a need-blind process will be up to Chancellor Designate Andrew Martin’s discretion.

The Student Life Editorial Board urges Martin to implement a need-blind process for next fall’s admissions season, a choice that would both be congruent with other recently introduced changes in the admissions process and further the University’s socioeconomic diversity initiatives.

The current admissions season, for the class of 2023, featured the debut of a supplemental essay question and the University’s new policies to automatically consider students for merit scholarships, both decisions that make the University’s admissions process more similar to those of its peer institutions. In 2017, the University removed the application fee for students applying from families making less than $75,000 a year and instituted a policy allowing students to self-report standardized testing scores which allows students to bypass fees to send the scores through College Board or other organizations. These two changes increase the University’s admissions accessibility by removing economic barriers and should complement, not replace, a need-blind policy

Using U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings, Washington University and Cornell University are the only schools landing in the top 25-ranked colleges nationally that do not use a need-blind admissions process, a status that does not reflect well on the University’s commitment to improving socioeconomic diversity on campus.

Implementing a need-blind policy would be yet another move in a positive direction to change the Washington University admissions process to match the conventions of its peer institutions and to demonstrate the prioritization of socioeconomic awareness and diversity.

A need-blind process makes admissions more equitable for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, a mission that should be prioritized by the University’s administration, especially considering Washington University’s status as number one in terms of highest median family income among students, according to a New York Times economic diversity report. The same report also placed Washington University as number four for percentage of students from the top 1 percent and number one for percentage of students from the top 5 percent.

Choosing not to turn to a need-blind process is indicative of the University’s past of choosing to cater its services toward socioeconomically-privileged students. The Student Life Editorial Board believes that moving to make the University friendlier to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds would represent a further commitment to the University’s status as a non-profit institution.

Becoming a need-blind institution that meets full need could attract more socioeconomic diversity to Washington University, the real “ideal” Wrighton should be looking toward. Implementing a need-blind policy definitely won’t solve Washington University’s lack of socioeconomic diversity and support, but it’s a simple step that moves in the direction of correcting the problem. We urge the University to use its funds not only to make the admissions process equitable, but also to expand its programming and resources to support students of all socioeconomic backgrounds once on campus.

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