The Next Capital Campaign


Three weeks ago, the trustees of Hamilton College put their money behind their values. Six members of Hamilton’s Board of Trustees together donated $3 million from their own pockets to back up a commitment to admitting the best class of students each year, regardless of their ability to pay.Hamilton’s decision to turn to a need-blind admissions policy can cynically be viewed as a publicity stunt (and a successful one: it has drawn the attention of The New York Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others), but it is nevertheless a bold decision to support the college’s professed dedication to providing access to students from all tax brackets.

Macalester abandoned its need-blind policy in 2005 in the name of fiscal responsibility. The college’s economic makeup hasn’t changed dramatically since, it still admits more students who require financial aid than many of its peers. Macalester advertises that it meets 100 percent of accepted students’ “demonstrated need,” an admirable and impressive accomplishment, but no guarantee of economic diversity.

The Step Forward capital campaign will most likely meet its record-breaking fundraising goal late next year, but the next effort to encourage donations to support the college will follow closely on its heels.

Returning to a need-blind admissions policy should be the chief goal of Macalester’s next capital campaign.

The notion that need-blind would inevitably keep the college from funding other projects is absurd. Here’s the math: history suggests the increase in the percentage of students receiving financial aid under a need-blind policy could be funded safely by $4 million per year. Let’s say $5 million to leave no margin for error. That sum can be provided in virtual perpetuity by a dedicated endowment of $100 million. Think Macalester can’t raise that much? The record set by President Rosenberg and the Advancement staff during the current $150 million capital campaign suggests otherwise. Smart budgeting has given Macalester the flexibility to start down this path, even during the financial crisis. In the last three years combined, Macalester’s operating budget has shown a combined surplus of about $8 million. This year’s profit will hit a record high thanks to the large freshman class.

Raising money for need-blind isn’t sexy. It cannot be sold to donors as tangibly as a new building or an endowed professorship. There are no naming rights that go along with supporting students from low-income families.

But we have a tradition here of providing access that goes back as far as our commitment to internationalism. Wealthy alumni understand that the college mission demands that we provide broader access to this unique place. If they aren’t willing to support such an effort, then they missed the point during their years here.

Change in higher education comes slowly. The Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center’s renovation will be completed in the next few years — more than a decade after the project was envisioned. For an idea to be realized, it must first find its way into an institution’s goals. Aware of this fact, President Rosenberg should open a conversation about eventually returning Macalester to need-blind admissions at the May Board of Trustees meeting. The shift to need-blind presents a financial risk to be sure, but greatness doesn’t come about through conservative budgeting and compromise of values. It comes from bold action in support of the spirit and soul of an institution.

Macalester is already one of the most generous colleges in the country in terms of financial aid. As the college administration strains every nerve to find ways to highlight our distinctiveness (see the Institute for Global Citizenship), what could make us stand out more than cementing our place as the most economically diverse need-blind school in the country? That would land the college much more of the publicity it has tried so hard to attract with Markim Hall’s LEED certification and the President’s Day YouTube video.

In one of the events during the run-up to Founder’s Day earlier this month, legendary former president John B. Davis earned applause from the crowd when he spoke passionately about the ideal behind Macalester: that students from every background and every country could come together to get an education for the sake of a better world. That ideal will not be realized until every applicant to Macalester is considered equally, regardless of their family’s personal finances.

The opinions expressed above are those of The Mac Weekly, as determined by the staff. The perspectives are not representative of Macalester College.