Staff Editorial: On Need-Aware Admissions


As reported in this week’s issue, the Resource Planning Committee (RPC) recommended a vigorous and systematic assessment of the need-aware admissions system the school has used for the past seven years. As the administration reminded us, despite our current state of need-awareness—where a student’s potential financial contribution to Macalester is taken into account in a limited number of admissions decisions—the college continues to offer excellent financial aid to admitted students. Further, they contend that the switch from need blind admissions has had little measurable impact on campus experience. We here at The Mac Weekly fully recognize the first point. Macalester should be commended, as it is in rankings year after year, for delivering consistently fair financial aid packages when compared to peer institutions and belonging to the group of 70 schools committed to meeting full demonstrated need. However, we believe that it is too soon to say whether or not need-awareness in admissions has had a negative impact on Macalester. Students should not take our current policies as received wisdom, and we would be interested and encouraged by a renewed discussion of need-blind admissions in campus life, sparked by and further informing the systematic assessment the RPC recommends. The dean of admissions is quoted in the RPC’s report as saying that last year was the most difficult yet for balancing financial need with other admissions goals. Though we recognize the difficulties inherent in college admissions, the fact that this trade-off seems to have become more influential in the process of forming a new Macalester class is troubling to us. Admissions is already an inexact art, not a science—we should mindfully examine any factors we add to the admissions process that make it more difficult to treat it solely as a question of “what kind of class does Macalester want to field this year?” It should also be noted that an increased number of students receiving aid since the need-aware policy was enacted could be due to any number of factors, such as overall negative economic trends. It is difficult to establish what Macalester could have become had need-blind admissions been in place these past seven years. Despite its difficulty, that is a question we must answer if we are to truly evaluate need-aware admissions’ place in what Macalester strives to be.