Harold O. Levy is a former chancellor of the New York City public schools and we have long been fans of his work for students from underpriviledged backgrounds seeking to attend our nation’s most highly selective universities. His is a voice in higher education we greatly respect. After all, this was a man who, in the face of much opposition (including from the then-New York City mayor), wisely used his business acumen and reliance on data-driven analytics to reform one of America’s most notoriously broken school systems. Yesterday, Mr. Levy posted a piece on “Inside Higher Ed” about the discrimination that he believes is inherent in Early Decision and Early Action admissions policies. And while we respect his viewpoint, we can’t help but respectfully disagree.
Mr. Levy believes that Early Decision and Early Action policies at America’s universities unfairly discriminate against low-income and minority students. As he writes, “Many low-income students are unaware of the option of applying early…Guidance counselors at high schools with many low-income students are responsible for advising hundreds or as many as 1,000 students each, and so don’t have the time and, in many cases, the training to explain all the steps students can take to increase their odds of college admission…Most important, because low-income students can’t attend college without getting substantial financial aid, they can’t commit to enrolling in an institution by applying on an early-decision basis. They need to compare aid offers once they hear from all the colleges and universities that accept them. This fact alone essentially precludes those with financial need from applying early.”
We absolutely agree with Mr. Levy that school counselors at high schools with low-income students need to be better informed about the benefits of applying Early. They need to be better trained, to have a better understanding of the whole highly selective college admissions process. But we absolutely disagree with his argument that applying Early essentially ‘precludes’ students who need financial aid from applying. It’s an argument that Mr. Levy uses to essentially disqualify the practice of Early Decision and Early Action policies so let’s take a moment to analyze it.
There is absolutely no reason that a student who needs financial aid shouldn’t apply through a school’s Early Decision or Early Action policy. The whole theory presented by Mr. Levy has been outdated ever since the advent of the Net Price Calculator. We encourage our readers to Google any college name with the words “Net Price Calculator.” By doing so, a family can get a very good estimate of their net costs at that particular college. Colleges expect applicants to do their homework. They expect them to use the NPC.
We applaud the spirit of Mr. Levy’s remarks on Early Decision and Early action policies. But his central argument branding these policies as discriminatory against low-income students is, in a word, outdated.
So the whole notion of needing to “compare financial aid offers” may have held water back in the 1990’s when Mr. Levy was making very admirable reforms to our New York City public schools, but it’s an outmoded argument now. There is absolutely no reason that a student from a low-income family can’t apply Early Decision or Early Action armed with the knowledge of what they’ll be expected to pay for each year of college. Do we need to continue to get the word out to school counselors at low-income schools to tout the benefits of applying Early? You bet. But let’s leave arguments that made sense when Rudolph Giuliani was New York City’s mayor in the past. Like Rudy, it’s where they belong. Oh no we didn’t. We did.
Can universities do a better job of encouraging students from low-income families to apply Early? Yes. Can everyone do a better job of getting the word out that students don’t need to compare financial aid packages to have an idea of what they’ll be expected to pay at a given university? Yes. Is the current Early Decision and Early Action pool generally more affluent than the Regular Decision pool at most highly selective universities? Regrettably, yes. But there are enormous benefits to such policies — benefits Mr. Levy articulately points out in his piece — not only for the schools but also for the students. And there is absolutely no reason that students from low-income families can’t too capitalize on the benefits of these policies to receive an education at the college of their dreams, an education their family will be able to subsidize with financial aid.