Need-Blind Admissions Was Always A Lie

A great op-ed in The New York Times by Peter Coy shines a spotlight on how many elite universities have been essentially operating as a cartel by allegedly restraining trade in violation of our free markets.

Are the elite universities in the 568 Presidents Group operating as a cartel, colluding to price fix financial aid offers in the college admissions process? We happen to think so and so too does Peter Coy, a New York Times opinion writer out with a fantastic op-ed this week. In his piece, entitled “How Much Deference Do Elite U.S. Colleges Deserve?,” Coy details how this group of schools came to join this consortium, why it was formed, how it’s been operating through the years, and how the class action lawsuit filed last week against the 16 elite universities is rather, well, damning for the defendants. We happen to agree. And remember, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, an organization to which we’re a member, had to change its bylaws a couple of years ago for essentially being accused by our Department of Justice of violating our free markets by restraining trade. So it’s not like the field of higher education is immune to being punished for violating federal antitrust law. Heck, we’ve been calling out the lowly Independent Educational Consultants Association, a despicable organization we are proudly not members of, for many years for — we argue — brazenly violating federal antitrust law by attempting to restrain trade. So, yes, we found ourselves rooting on Mr. Coy as he detailed just how these so-called “need-blind” colleges — and we’ve argued that need-blind admissions is a lie for many years — have allegedly been colluding to price fix financial aid offers.

As Mr. Coy so eloquently writes, “The class-action lawsuit filed on Sunday argues that the 568 Presidents Group, which the suit calls a “cartel,” broke the law because some of the schools in the group, some of the time, were not fully need-blind in their admissions decisions. For example — brace yourself for a shock — the children of extremely wealthy families might have gotten a bit of an edge. The lawsuit quotes E. Gordon Gee, a former chancellor of Vanderbilt University and a former president of Brown University, both of which are named in the suit, who said that any school president under the influence of ‘truth serum’ would concede that donor connections make a difference in admissions. Columbia University, also named in the suit, openly states that admissions to its School of General Studies, although not to its other undergraduate units, are not need-blind. In addition to Columbia, Vanderbilt and Brown, the defendants are the California Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Georgetown, M. I.T, Northwestern, Notre Dame, the University of Pennsylvania, Rice and Yale. Each has been a member of the 568 Presidents Group all or part of the time since 2003.”

Hear! Hear! Well said, Mr. Coy. Schools that ask applicants on the very application that admissions officers can see with their own two eyes if they need financial aid are not truly need-blind. Schools that openly state they’re not need-blind for international applicants are not truly need-blind. Schools that offer preferential treatment to the progeny of major donors are not truly need-blind. Schools that carve out certain schools within the university as need-aware are not truly need-blind. Schools that take the ability to pay of waitlisted candidates into account are not truly need-blind. Need-blind admissions is, in fact, a bald-faced lie and it’s about time these schools are held to account for being dishonest about their consideration of financial need in admissions decision-making.


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  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks for continuing to highlight this. I can not tell you how pained my family was when Cornell gave us a bill we could not pay and told us to take out loans- and with a parent with a life-threatening illness. They were so flippant. And I am a Pell Grant recipient. They are not beneath saying that you have a home with equity. So we are supposed to pay Cornell and go homeless? It really is despicable.

  • Enologisto says:

    There’s a lot to criticize about many of these elite universities, but I can say at least in Penn’s case they are pretty generous. Whatever their faults might be here, I would never have been able to attend 30+ years ago had they not made it possible. I’ve never forgotten that. Current students should keep that in mind before trash-talking the school that made it possible for them to do so.

    If these schools are violating the rules they should be held accountable. People seem to forget that universities are businesses, not charities.

  • Jeremiah Jones says:

    Trash Talking? ha. Universities 30 years ago had ridiculously reasonable tuition. And if they were still operating that way, there would not be a class action lawsuit that the court finds has merit. Collusion and Cartels are NOT part of business as usual. Sorry Analogisto, but Anonymous is experiencing what many students are experiencing today and I doubt you were on any Pell, since the majority attending 30 years ago were beyond privileged! I have seen your comments a lot on this site- agues yo have a lot of free time?

  • Anonymous says:

    I smell a rat. Enology is the study of wine. UPenn has no viticulture major- nor does any Ivy League school – except Cornell! And anyone studying wine at Cornell usually comes from the wine industry and usually a winery themeslves- aka, mucho dinero $$$$! Doubtful there would be any need for financial aid from that cohort. Looks like we discovered a rat- a very rich rat, perhaps, but a rat nonetheless- and very sore about criticism of his alma mater. “High Above Cayuga’s Waters…”. Let’s sing along.

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