By Amy Lieberman
As the admissions office reviews a record-high 4,815 applications, it faces one new obstacle: need-aware admissions. The implementation of this new admissions policy, approved in January 2005 by the Board of Trustees, marks the switch from need-blind admissions, under which applicants?TM finances played no role in the review process. Need-aware admissions now calls for admissions officers to take applicants?TM finances into consideration, with regard to the allotted financial aid budget. But with Mar. 30 as the official notification date for regular admission, many questions remain about how the need-aware process will unfold, including the exact number of students that may be denied admission because of this policy.Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Lorne Robinson said that need-aware will have affected approximately 5 to 12 percent of accepted students, meaning that all other applicants would be admitted on a completely need-blind basis. These numbers, though, are merely an estimate, since the current applicant pool?TMs financial and general academic breakdown, at this time, is difficult to project. Macalester has already accepted 128 early-decision applicants, leaving 349 slots to complete the estimated class of 477.With the switch to need-aware admissions, the school hopes to decrease its tuition discount rate, which, presently at 44-45 percent, is the percentage of grants the school distributes to students on financial aid. In other words, for the average student on financial aid, the college currently covers 44 cents of each tuition dollar. By decreasing the discount rate, the college will spend relatively less on financial aid. This may also ease the college?TMs increasing budget for financial aid, in part because of rising tuition costs it has to match. ?oeWe?TMre trying to decrease the budget price by one percent,?? President Brian Rosenberg said. ?oeWe want it to be in the low 40s rather than the high.?? The financial aid budget, with a 6.7 percent increase from last year, currently rests at $25.1 million. Approximately 70 to 75 percent of Macalester students receive some form of financial aid, and their total needs must first be deducted. From this 70 to 75 percent, approximately two-thirds of students receive need-based grants, as others receive merit-based grants or loans. Treasurer David Wheaton estimates that after present students?TM needs are met, the admissions office will have approximately $7 million to distribute to incoming students. Domestic white students will feel need-aware?TMs effects the most. Students of color will be exempt from the policy, as may also be the case for some high-ranking athletes. Early-decision applicants will undergo need-blind admissions review. International and transfer students, on the other hand, have always been reviewed on a need-aware basis. This division of students is marked by the schools?TM continuing commitment to racial diversity, President Brian Rosenberg said. But economic diversity, Robinson said, is not as certain. ?oeUnder need-aware, not everyone will be admitted,?? he said. ?oeThere will be less economic diversity by definition.?? Such was the claim of students who organized last year under the name Defend Need Blind Admissions at Macalester (DNBAM) to rally against the school?TMs proposed switch to need-aware admissions. DNBAM members maintained that the switch to need-aware was unethical and that finances should not play such a direct role in students?TM education. DNBAM also voiced opposition to the lack of students?TM involvement in the issue. DNBAM?TMs extensive rallying and influence was demonstrated in quite vocal and visible forms; officers wrote a report in defense of need-blind last fall to the Board of Trustees . DNBAM also participated in a debate over the matter, but to little avail. the Board of Trustees voted to approve the need-aware switch, a decision which resulted in a walkout protest, various acts of vandalism and a need-blind funeral in the Spring ?TM05 semester. Legislative Body representative Natalie Espejo ?TM07 was also involved with DNBAM during the Fall ?TM05 semester, but after the Board of Trustees vote in Jan., she did not continue to rally against need-aware into the next semester. ?oeI felt like people heard us and they just said no,?? Espejo said. ?oeWe were heard late in the game, and we weren?TMt on equal footing, but that doesn?TMt mean people didn?TMt pay attention. The administration did hear us out.?? Espejo holds her original argument that with need-aware, Macalester would compromise its economic diversity, and that without the students need-aware would eliminate, Macalester would be a different place. Still, while Espejo said she was disappointed with the Board of Trustees?TM decision, she said there were more important things to focus on. ?oeI started out really angry and then I realized there was not one specific person to be angry at,?? she said. Former DNBAM officer David Boehnke ?TM07, on the other hand, continues to track need-aware?TMs implementation progress. He also has tried to keep up with the financial aid budget, with hopes that more money may be allocated to financial aid. His argument against need-aware still stands. ?oeBy reducing the diversity of income on campus you are shutting out a really important viewpoint that is already made invisible,?? he said. Further, he still questions the administration?TMs approach to handling the matter. ?oeAll the trustees read the report, but reading something doesn?TMt compensate for actually doing something about it. Issues of student input being heard and acted upon, as opposed to just listened to, have yet to be addressed,?? he said. Implementation of Need-Aware As Robinson said, applicants will undergo the same review process as years past, meaning that students?TM academic record and supplemental materials will all be taken into account first. From there, students are grouped in number rankings, from one to seven, one being the highest, with pluses and minuses within these divisions. In total, there are 19 categories. In the Resource Planning Committee (RPC) report submitted last year, which outlines its recommendation to switch to need-aware, it detailed a grouping method for applicants, and showed which students need-aware will most likely affect. This model predicted that students in the three or four category will undergo the need-aware review. Wheaton said a similar process should ensue this year, but at the same time, that the model remains merely an example. Robinson said admissions officers will focus on whatever marginal group results from sifting through applications. ?oeWe don?TMt know how many students will be affected,?? he said. At the same time, the process is far from black and white. ?oeIt?TMs not like we score every applicant. It will be a lot more time and labor intensive than it has been in the last year,?? Robinson added. Robinson said that admissions officers will implement need-aware when it starts running short on financial aid dollars. ?oeIt isn?TMt a real answer,?? he said, ?oebut it is going to depend on where we are in the process at that point. It gets complicated. We don?TMt know what the characteristics now are of the students who have applied.?? Administrators agreed that they will know much more about the process in years to come. ?oeWe haven?TMt really pinned the system down,?? Lindeman said. ?oeIt?TMs so new. I don?TMt want to sound like the weatherman too much.?? Wheaton agreed. ?oeI?TMm cautious about quoting it at a particular estimate of how this will play out,?? he said. ?oeThe important thing is to understand that we don?TMt know what?TMs in the pool until we wade through it. How that p
lays out against the budget is something that we just don?TMt know yet.?? The process will be an ongoing one, and even from now until next week, when admissions committees will first meet to review applications, as Lindeman said, ?oe a lot will happen.?? ?oeWe?TMre still developing the tools we?TMre going to use to predict exactly how much of the aid budget to set aside for each student,?? he added. Not all applicants have submitted their financial aid forms, but Lindeman said approximately 68 percent of the U.S. regular decision applicants have indicated that they will be applying for aid. Still, those materials continue to arrive daily. ?oe I wish it could be more definite,?? he said. ?oeEveryone feels like in a year they will be able to say much more.?? Admissions officers may not fully know the data on incoming students until August, or even September, due to students who may turn in financial aid forms late. As a result, the set financial aid budget may or may not be met. ?oeIf we go over the budget, we go over the budget,?? Robinson said. ?oeThere is a certain amount of fluctuation there that is unpredictable. We have to make our best guess before we make the offer of admission.?? Once they decide who to admit, admissions officers will have to take into account how many of the admitted students, which Robinson said could range from 1,400 to 1,800, they think may actually attend Macalester. But as Robinson said in an e-mail, ?oewe first must get a sense of who?TMs being admitted. Then, based on what we know about those students, we can estimate what percentage will actually enroll?Ýwe can then figure out how many offers of admissions to extend.?? Changing Image? While Macalester has changed its admissions review process, administrators doubt that the need-aware switch will have a substantial effect on the school?TMs general reputation. Lindeman noted a difference between need-aware and financial aid; need-aware does not affect a student past his or her admittance. Macalester will continue to meet each admitted students?TM full financial needs. ?oeWe are going to analyze need in the same way,?? Lindeman said, ?oeand create aid packages in the same way.?? Administrators were quick to point out the high percentage of students that receive financial aid at Macalester, and that compared to its peer institutions, the college remains above average in the amount of aid it distributes. Robinson said this decision simply comes down to the fact that Macalester can no longer promote that it is need-blind. ?oeStill,?? he said, ?oewe meet the needs of all students that are admitted.?? Rosenberg agreed. ?oeIt?TMs never been a central way we advertise ourselves,?? he said, noting that Macalester?TMs need-blind policy never even appeared in printed material, only on its website. But Boehkne still maintained that while the switch to need-aware might result in more money for the college and increase its chances of rising in rankings, the issue of lack of economic diversity remains. ?oeI think more students will be affected by it than the 10 percent number [the estimate included in the RPC report],?? he said. ?oeThe effects on the college will be dramatic in a subtle kind of way.??