Wrighton: Need-blind ‘an ideal that we can work towards’

Curran Neenan | Staff Reporter

Chancellor Wrighton said that Washington University’s adoption of need-blind admissions is “an ideal we can work towards” in a recent interview with Student Life.

“I don’t see it to be fiscally responsible or possible for us to move to what people call ‘need-blind,’” Wrighton said. “I think that’s an ideal that we can work towards and indeed, John McDonnell, as you’ve heard, said we raised $591 million, but he acknowledged that Provost Holden Thorp [and I] would want to see us continue to raise money for that purpose, and we’re doing that.”

ADA-GraphicGraphic by Brandon Wilburn

Wrighton said that the policy change would require one billion dollars of new endowment focused towards financial aid to become need-blind. The University raised $591 million for scholarships during the nine-year “Leading Together” campaign that ended this summer.

Provost Holden Thorp said that the University accelerated its financial aid fundraising efforts with the help of Washington University for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity (WU/FUSED).

“[Wrighton] is saying we would need to raise a bunch more money for aid than we have been, and we’ve already increased it a lot in response to all of the excellent work that WU/FUSED and others have done,” Thorp said.

Thorp acknowledged Wrighton’s position that need-blind admissions are an ideal to work towards but said that the decision will rest with incoming Chancellor Martin.

“To get all the way to need-blind, we would have to raise a lot more than what we’ve been raising, and that’s something that will be decided by Chancellor Martin in consultation with all of us,” Thorp said. “It’s up to him to decide if that’s a key goal for us. I believe it will be.”

After receiving criticisms regarding the University’s lack of socioeconomic diversity, administrators pledged to increase Pell-eligible student enrollment to 13 percent by 2020. Thorp believes that need-blind admissions policies will not wholly address the University’s problem.

“My dream would be, one day, we stop talking about need, and we start talking more about how to provide more educational equity to more people,” Thorp said. “This need-blind concept has become kind of a cultural meme.”

According to Vice Provost of Admissions & Financial Aid Ronne Patrick Turner, the University is refocusing its recruitment efforts to make progress with this goal.

“We’ve expanded our outreach to students who are from under-resourced backgrounds or schools…by visiting more schools with free and reduced lunch and partnering with several great community organizations,” Turner said.

In conjunction with these recruitment efforts, the University partnered with Questbridge, a non-profit that links talented low-income students to elite universities in January.

The University has long struggled to build an economically diverse student body. A 2017 New York Times study found that the University’s 2013 graduating class had 3.6 students in the top one percent of income for every student from the bottom 60 percent, the highest ratio of any college in the nation.

WU/FUSED member sophomore Lila Puziss stressed the importance of socioeconomic diversity at an elite university.

“A large issue with the lack of socioeconomic diversity is that low-income students can often feel culturally isolated, and that plays out in housing, that plays out in your social life,” she said. “[Wrighton has] never before mentioned support for need-blindness—that’s really shocking.”

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