DOJ Probes Early Decision Communications

DOJ Early Decision Probe, Early Decision, Early Decision Program

The DOJ is currently investigating communications between certain colleges with regard to Early Decision applicants (photo credit: Tim4403224246).

The United States Department of Justice is investigating possible communications between certain elite liberal arts colleges that include the names of students who’ve been admitted to their institutions through binding Early Decision policies. To suggest that the Jeff Sessions-led DOJ has been active over this past year in investigating college admissions-related matters would be a gross understatement. As our regular readers know well, the DOJ is currently investigating Harvard for alleged discrimination against Asian American applicants. The department is also investigating the National Association for College Admission Counseling for alleged violations of federal antitrust law. And now Early Decision policies at certain highly selective schools are facing scrutiny.

DOJ Probes Certain Elite Liberal Arts Colleges

More specifically, the DOJ is asking these schools — Amherst College, Grinnell College, Middlebury College, Pomona College, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University, and Williams College — to share information with the department related to any communications the schools have had with one another to enforce the terms of the binding Early Decision commitments students have made to the institutions. As reports Laurel Wamsley for “NPR” in a piece about the DOJ’s probe of these schools,  “Several colleges and institutions are said to have received letters from the Justice Department last week. The agency is asking them to retain any agreements or communications about sharing the identities of accepted students, as well as actions or decisions made based on information received from other colleges about the identities of accepted students.”

Early Decision Programs Don’t Violate Federal Antitrust Law

Early Decision programs, programs in which a college applicant makes a binding commitment to attend one college if admitted, are not a violation of federal antitrust law — at least as we see it. Students (and their parents) sign contracts with these schools that offer Early Decision programs. They sign these contracts of their own volition. They do so fully understanding that if the student is offered admission by the school to which they’re applying Early Decision, the student must matriculate. It’s quite simple. We take no issue with universities sharing the names of students admitted under Early Decision programs. It’s a way to ensure students aren’t violating the terms and conditions of their binding Early Decision commitments by applying to other schools. It’s a way for all colleges to stand together, to keep students honest. Otherwise, students would feel free to violate their Early Decision commitments, confident that colleges wouldn’t enforce the terms of their contracts. That would be unfair to colleges that offer such programs.

 Colleges Could Be Violating Law By Sharing Names of Deferrals and Denials

These colleges should not, however, share the names of students who were deferred or denied in the Early Decision round. The colleges to which these students apply in the Regular Decision round should not receive any indication from the school that deferred or denied their admission. That wouldn’t be right either. The colleges to which deferred or denied Early Decision applicants apply to in the Regular Decision round should receive no indication that the student had his or her act together in the Early round and simply chose to apply to another school. That’s private information. For all Regular Decision colleges know, the student was a procrastinator and didn’t choose to apply Early Decision — at least that’s how it should be and how it is at the vast majority of highly selective colleges.

In our experience, most schools truly don’t share this kind of information. But if the Department of Justice were to discover that any particular college does share the names of deferred or denied Early Decision students, we believe that would be worthy of a DOJ investigation. Do our readers agree? Let us know your thoughts, your questions, and what you ate for breakfast by posting a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!


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