Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Aaron Taylor on George Washington University Admitting to Misrepresenting Its “Need-Blind” Status

Welcome and thanks to Aaron Taylor, Saint Louis University School of Law, who is blogging with us for the first time.  Professor Taylor's expertise and interests fall in higher education admissions and student aid. He hope he will continue to join us periodically in the future.  He offers this on George Washington University Admitting to Misrepresenting its “Need-Blind” Status:
        For years, GWU asserted to prospective students and the public that it selected applicants through a need-blind admissions process—one in which an applicant’s financial need has no bearing on her admission decision.  Last week, however, the university copped to the truth—that financial need is in fact an admission criterion.
        The obvious problem with GWU’s previous assertion is of course its dishonesty.  Prospective students, parents, and counselors rely on such representations in making decisions about where to apply.  These are significant considerations given the time, expense and stress of the application process.  
        The less obvious, but more significant problem is the message embedded in GWU’s (and every other) need-aware, admissions process.  I have written in many spaces about how wealth is often used as a proxy for merit in higher education admissions.  The associations between wealth and entrance exam scores and grades demonstrate the significant advantages that wealthier students enjoy in selective admissions processes.  And when the process takes ability to pay into account, the typical poor applicant gets dinged two ways: 1) by her inability to harness wealth to manipulate the admissions process in her favor (e.g. take an SAT prep course, hire an admission consultant); and 2) by her inability to pay without financial aid, even if she manages to overcome the other obstacles.  There should be no wonder that GWU enrolls a paltry 12% of students who are eligible for need-based federal Pell Grants.  Need-aware admissions processes are often an understandable response to limited resources, but when your endowment is more than $1 billion—as is the case with GWU—that justification seems less compelling.  
        In the end, much of this comes down to the fundamental question: What obligation do colleges and universities have in tangibly promoting social justice and the American Dream, as advertised?Based on the way most of our wealthiest schools operate, the obvious answer is “not much.”

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