Zetcher family makes $8 million commitment for need-based aid, supporting WU goal to go need-blind

| Staff Reporter

The Zetcher family has made an 8 million dollar commitment to Washington University to be used for need-based aid, propelling the institution on its path to need-blind admissions. In the Zetchers’ recognition, South 40 House will be renamed Arnold and Ellen Zetcher House.

Courtesy of The Source

According to Chancellor Andrew Martin, the Arnold and Ellen Zetcher Scholarship will be awarded to students proportional to their level of need. It will be available to students in any of the four academic schools within the University.

However, Martin said that the commitment will not be available for distribution immediately.

“The Zetcher gift is an estate commitment,” Martin said. “It won’t be realized for some time. But, nonetheless, will be used to continue to build the endowment we use to support the funding of financial aid.”

According to The Source, Arnold Zetcher graduated in 1962 with a bachelors’ in business administration from Olin Business School and went on to become chairman, president and CEO of Talbots Inc. Zetcher, who attended the University through financial aid and loans, hopes to provide that experience to other talented students.

“When we heard about Chancellor Martin’s goal for need-blind admissions, we realized that our gift could help make that happen,” Zetcher told The Source. “To be able to play a life-changing role in so many young people’s lives is an honor.”

“I’m deeply grateful for the Zetchers for making this commitment,” Martin said. “You know, for them, the ability to support students with need and for us ultimately to become a need-blind institution is something that they’re quite committed to, and [they] have shown that commitment through their philanthropy.”

Martin sees the Zetcher family commitment and those like it as integral to the University’s goal of becoming need-blind, an important step in increasing campus socio-economic diversity. The necessity of diversifying became especially apparent when, in 2015, the New York Times labeled the University “the least economically diverse top college.”

According to Martin, the University has already made significant progress towards increasing campus socio-economic diversity since then. 16% of the entering class of 2024 was Pell-eligible, Martin said, an increase from 15% of the class of 2022, and 6% campuswide in 2015.

To continue fostering socio-economic diversity, Martin said the University plan to continue to invest in financial aid, fund grants such as technology grants, which were first provided in fall 2019, and invest in initiatives like Deneb STARS, a program supporting first-gen students and students from under-resourced socioeconomic backgrounds.

Trinity Weinhaus, a freshman in the Deneb STARS program, described how students from under-resourced backgrounds can feel out of place given the University’s wealthy student body.

“Wash. U. is a private university, and the majority of the people that attend Wash. U. are higher income, so, whenever lower-income students go into Wash. U., they are sort of encountered with the sense of isolation because they cannot relate to certain experiences that other students can,” Weinhaus said. “It helps to gather all of the low-income, first-generation students and make a sort of community where they can rely on each other for support.”

Weinhaus sees need-blind admissions as a necessary step toward increasing socioeconomic diversity and said it is important to recognize the Zetchers through renaming South 40 House, given the value that donations hold for financial aid.

Anthony Tillman, assistant provost for student success and director of the Deneb STARS Program, clarified that Wash. U. will not go need-blind knowing it cannot offer students sufficient financial support.

“When the University decides to fully engage into a need-blind admissions practice, he [Chancellor Martin] will only do so knowing that it has the financial resources to support any student who has need to come to the institution,” Tillman said.

Tillman guessed that the switch to need-blind admissions will occur in around two fiscal years.

“It’s gonna take time,” he said. “We are still in the embryonic stages of our development in this space and narrative as relates to socioeconomic diversity at Wash. U., so there’s still a lot of things that need to be done.”

When asked, Martin would not provide a timeline as to when the shift to need-blind admissions will occur. He said that the transition towards need-blindness is slow moving, with admissions cycles only occurring annually.

“We continue to carefully analyze all aspects, and I’m looking forward to being able to announce to our community that we’re going to make the switch as soon as it’s possible for us to do so,” Martin said.

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