GWU Cited for ‘Need Blind’ Deceit
Published: Friday, October 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2013 10:10
After news broke earlier this week that The George Washington University had misrepresented its admissions policy as need-blind, GWU responded that it is not able to cover all need because of its relatively small endowment of $1.375 billion.
Despite Georgetown’s smaller endowment of $1.286 billion, university officials maintained that financial background never factors into admissions decisions for Georgetown applicants.
The GW Hatchet reported Oct. 23 that GWU’s stated need-blind policy did not represent its admissions process. According to newly hired Associate Provost for Enrollment Management Laurie Koehler, the process is more accurately called “read need-blind,” a system in which financial decisions are not considered in the first round of applicant review but may be a factor later on. According to The Hatchet, students who would otherwise be admitted but are not among the university’s top choices may end up being waitlisted if they are in severe financial need. According to Koehler, this affects up to 10 percent of applicants each year.
“One of our competitive disadvantages is not having the resources to undergird student aid,” Koehler wrote on the school’s website.
Georgetown Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon explained that Georgetown is able to remain need-blind despite its small endowment by accounting for financial aid in its operating budget. Only 22 percent of financial aid comes from the endowment and annual donations, with the rest incorporated into the budget.
In contrast, a majority of GW’s financial aid is not counted as operating expenses, according to an operating budget report from The Hatchet.
Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity Richard Vedder pointed to the fact that Georgetown has a higher endowment per student, thanks to its lower enrollment. At Georgetown, the per-student endowment is approximately $67,000, while it is approximately $51,000 at GWU.
Vedder, however, doubted that Georgetown could be fully need-blind.
“Like GW, it doesn’t have a mammoth endowment,” Vedder said.
Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh held to the claim that Georgetown’s admissions process is completely need-blind and the university admits students regardless of their ability to cover tuition costs.
“The financial aid office never tells admissions about the financial need of any applicants,” Pugh said. “There is a true ‘firewall’ between the offices on this matter. Georgetown is passionate about our meeting-full-need policy.”
Deacon compared this policy to what GWU does.
“When you say you do need-blind admissions, that means you actually are reviewing all the applicants all the way through to the end and picking the best of them,” Deacon said. “You’re not coming back at the end and being sensitive to need.”
Vedder characterized GWU’s previous claims to be need-blind as dishonest.
“I think it is misleading to say, ‘We have a need-blind system,’ when, to the general public, that term means that financial considerations will not play any role in the admissions decisions,” Vedder said.
GWU spokeswoman Candace Smith, however, said that the issue was a matter of differing definitions.
“It’s still the same process, but it’s a matter of one person defining it one way and one person defining it another way,” Smith told The Hatchet.
Vedder said that the problem in this situation was GWU’s false representation of its policy, not that the school’s admissions policy is actually need-aware.
“I understand completely that GW is not need-blind,” Vedder said. “The problem that GW has — and I sympathize with them — is that they want to be a top-flight university in the first-rate of American universities, and they want to think of themselves as trying to be almost the equivalent of an Ivy League school.”
Vedder added that he did not think that universities should all strive to be need-blind.
“You could make the case that there is room in America for schools that do not profess to have as a top goal accepting any student regardless of financial ability,” Vedder said. “The Neiman Marcus department store is not need-blind, nor is Nordstrom or any up-scale retailer. You accept the fact that some people can afford it and some cannot.”