Assessing the need-aware switch

By Matt Day

Five years after the switch from a need-blind to need-aware admissions policy, the impact is not as dramatic as some need-blind advocates feared when the decision was made, but is visible in the economic makeup of the college.Financial Aid Director Brian Lindeman ’89 said the difference had been “noticeable, but not a sea change.”

Data provided by the Financial Aid office shows that the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants – a need-based federal grant to students from low-income families that serves as a popular benchmark for gauging a college’s support for financial aid – has fallen slightly. In the final four years of need-blind admissions, an average of about 14 percent of students received a grant. In the first four years of need aware, the average dropped to 13 percent.

The percentage of students receiving need-based aid has also decreased. In the final four years of need blind, the average percentage of the freshman class receiving need-based aid was about 72 percent. That figure has fallen in the years since to an average of about 67 percent.

The class of 2012 was admitted with 63 percent of its students receiving need-based aid, the lowest of any year for which data are available on the college Institutional Research Web site.

The number of freshmen receiving aid jumped to a percentage comparable to pre-need aware levels in the wake of the financial crisis for the class of 2013. The Financial Aid budget was increased by 12 percent for the year based on concerns about families’ ability to pay.

It is too soon to tell whether the low aid figures from 2012 or the high values from 2013 will be closer to the norm going forward. Lindeman said he expects the swing in the percentage of students on need-based aid to stay down about 4 percent from need-blind figures.