Editor’s Note season 2 episode 4: WashU finally goes need-blind

| Senior Multimedia Editor
A graphic with two large purple quotation marks in the center in front of a lime green background. In the upper right hand corner, orange and green letters read "Editor's Note." In the lower left hand corner, purple and green letters read "Season 2 Episode Four WashU Finally Goes Need-Blind" and "The Student Life Podcast"

Graphic by Christine Watridge/Student Life

Last Monday, the University announced they would be adopting a need-blind policy during admissions, starting with the upcoming application pool. This decision follows the recent announcement of the 65% increase in the endowment pool return but students have been advocating for this policy as early as 2004. In this week’s episode Senior Multimedia Editor sophomore Kamala Madireddi talks with Managing Editor senior Ted Moskal, Senior News Editor senior Grace Kennard, and  Managing Editor senior Em McPhie about the journey to need-blind admissions. Theme music by Copy Chief JJ Coley.

You can also listen to this week’s episode of Editor’s Note on Spotify or Apple Music.

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity.

KAMALA MADIREDDI (0:09-1:52): Last Monday, the University announced that the admissions process will be need-blind starting immediately, with the Class of 2026. The announcement follows a push from students from both recent and past years for this new policy. While students have been advocating for a more socioeconomically equitable process for admissions for a long time, the arguments for need-blind admissions were strengthened two weeks ago when the University announced a 65% return on the managed endowment pool. The decision to go need-blind was made quickly after the announcement of an increase in the endowment pool, but the journey to need-blind has been long and difficult.

I’m Kamala Madireddi, and you’re listening to Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast breaking down our biggest stories with the reporters and editors that covered them. 

Talks about going need-blind have been going on for a long time now. Both students and administrators have been involved in this conversation, but the decision was ultimately in the hands of the administration, who had to take into account various elements. The decision to adopt this policy, or not to, as was the case for a long time, has been complicated by both social and economic factors.

Managing Editor senior Ted Moskal and Senior News Editor senior Grace Kennard both reported on the University’s announcement of going need-blind during admissions. Managing Editor senior Em McPhie wrote about the journey to this announcement. McPhie explained why the University was reluctant to make this decision.

EM MCPHIE (1:53-2:12): For a very long time, even though students were calling for WashU administrators to make this change, administrators said that they were worried that because they didn’t have enough funding to guarantee that they will be able to support financial need, they didn’t want to start admitting students, without making that commitment.

KM (2:13-2:20): Kennard and Moskal both expanded on the administration’s financial reasons for the delay of the adoption of the need-blind policy.

GRACE KENNARD (2:21-2:59): My understanding is that their main reason for not being able to go need-blind in the past was that a large portion of the endowment is restricted. So, even though it’s this massive sum of money there’s a certain percentage of it, I think, one third of the endowment is unrestricted so that means a majority of it is restricted. That was the main argument against it. And now, with this massive increase in the endowment recently that increased all of the endowment, so the unrestricted and restricted, so it just increased the amount of money that they would be able to put towards something like need-blind.

TED MOSKAL (3:00-3:20): So if you look at like a $15 billion figure, you’re really only working with $5 billion, well, I say only $5 billion. But you’re working with a significantly smaller amount of money than the actual endowment number is. And the other thing you have to consider is that you have to keep admitting students need-blind every single year from now on. It’s not just a one-time financial commitment.

KM (3:21-3:31): While financial reasons were a common justification for the delay in the decision to go need-blind, the policy was not always a major priority of the administration.

EM (3:32-4:04): One way of looking at it is to say, “Oh the University didn’t have the funding to be need-blind before.” And I think that’s a little bit of an oversimplification because the endowment has been billions of dollars for a long time. There have been schools with smaller endowments that went need-blind earlier. But it’s really a question of prioritization, and the University’s administrators decided, “Okay, we’re going to prioritize our academic recognition and standing before we prioritize becoming need-blind.”

GK (4:05-4:18): Chancellor [Mark] Wrighton was quoted in 2012 saying that need blind just wasn’t their highest priority as an administration, so that was another thing that came up; it just wasn’t high on their list for several years.

KM (4:19-4:39): Even though need-blind admissions wasn’t a high priority for the administration, this policy has been important for many students on campus, as early as 2004. More recently, student groups, like Washington University for Undergraduate Socio-Economic Diversity, or WU/FUSED, have taken charge.

EM (4:40-5:14): Students have been calling for need-blind admissions for a long time. There’s a StudLife staff editorial from 2004 calling for the need-blind admissions. There have been student protests at several points over the last several years. The student group WU/FUSED, has led several protests on this issue. They interrupted a tuition forum a couple of years ago. A couple years ago there was a night called WrightonPalooza, which was a big celebration for the end of the old chancellor’s term. And WU/FUSED showed up and protested that.

KM (5:15-5:28): Although students have been advocating for need-blind admissions for a long time, the shift in the administration’s priorities came in part as a result of negative publicity about the lack of socioeconomic diversity at the University. 

EM (5:29-5:55): Back in 2015 when the New York Times published an article calling WashU the least economically diverse top college, WashU came under a lot of fire and a lot of pressure to fix that. And, in some ways, by some metrics, for example, the number of Pell-eligible students in the incoming freshman class each year that’s gone up. There has been slightly more of an effort over the last five or six years to increase socioeconomic diversity at the school.

TM (5:56-6:04): I think there genuinely was a pivot point around 2014 and 2015 when WashU started to look at those figures and said, “hey we’ve really got to start doing better.”

GK (6:05-6:25): The Deneb STARS program was founded around, it was in 2016, I believe. And it was founded to support low-income and first gen students. And then also with Chancellor Martin coming, I think it was last year or the year before the WashU pledge was enacted. So it’s been a process to get to this point for sure.

KM (6:26-6:36): While admitting students with the need-blind policy is an important step to ensuring WashU is a more inclusive space, there are still many steps that need to be taken. 

EM (6:37-7:13): We can start admitting students from less privileged backgrounds, but there’s a lot of work that has to be done to make this school a welcoming environment, and an environment where they can thrive.  If Sam Fox students have to spend hundreds of dollars on studio supplies, that’s not going to be fixed by admitting low-income students, and that’s not going to be an equitable space for low income students. This is a good step; there’s a lot more that needs to be done about the culture of this school, both the student culture and the academic culture, and the expectations that are placed on students once they are here that needs to change.

KM (7:14-7:21): Kennard spoke to the administration about how it plans to continue making WashU a more equitable space. 

GK (7:22-7:55): Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Anna Gonzalez, she talked about how the next step is about programming and making sure that students once they get to WashU are supported and have all the resources they need. We don’t have the specifics on that yet, but it’s going to involve maybe ramping up programs like Deneb STARS. So that’s going to be really critical  and taking this and actually implementing it and making sure that the students that are now able to come to WashU that wouldn’t have been otherwise that they have the support once they’re here.

KM (8:03-8:11): Editor’s Note will be back in two weeks after Fall Break to break down another developing story. For Student Life Media, I’m Kamala Madireddi.


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