Wow. Earlier this week, a federal class action lawsuit was filed against 16 elite universities, among them Dartmouth College, in which these schools were accused of eliminating competitive financial aid offers by artificially inflating the cost of attendance. In short, they were accused of colluding, of anti-competitive price fixing. As Stephanie Saul and Anemona Hartocollis reported for The New York Times in a piece entitled “Lawsuit Says 16 Elite Colleges Are Part of Price-Fixing Cartel,” “The allegations hinge on a methodology for calculating financial need. The 16 schools collaborate in an organization called the 568 Presidents Group that uses a consensus approach to evaluating a student’s ability to pay, according to the lawsuit. Under federal antitrust law, these universities are permitted to collaborate on financial aid formulas if they do not consider a student’s ability to pay in the admissions process, a status called “need blind.” The group’s name is derived from a section of federal law permitting such collaborations: Section 568 of the Higher Education Act. The suit claims that nine of the schools are not actually need blind because for many years, they have found ways to consider some applicants’ ability to pay.” Yet here’s the rub: these schools, as we’ve argued from atop our soapbox in elite college admissions for oh so many years, are not truly need-blind. Rather, they’re need-aware. They’ve been deceiving college applicants for many years and, well, they’re about to get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. So they’re on the defensive. And what does a defensive university do? Why, instantly change its admissions policy, of course. Hello, Dartmouth College!
Today, in an announcement sent to the Dartmouth College community dubbed “A Historic Change to Our Admissions Policy,” Dartmouth College President Philip Hanlon wrote, “It is my profound pleasure to announce today that Dartmouth is expanding its undergraduate need-blind admissions policy to include international students. This means that when Dartmouth’s Office of Admissions considers applicants from outside the United States, financial need will no longer be a factor in the decision-making process. This historic change in our admissions policy makes Dartmouth one of only six U.S. colleges and universities to offer need-blind admissions to all undergraduate applicants and guarantee to meet 100% of all admitted students’ demonstrated financial need. We’re able to make this change because hundreds of alumni, parents, and friends fervently believe, as I do, that U.S. and international applicants should be evaluated by the same standard and have committed $90 million in scholarship funds to the cause. This includes an exceptional and inspiring $40 million from an anonymous donor that we are announcing today—the largest single scholarship gift in Dartmouth history. As I and every faculty and staff colleague can attest, our entire community benefits from a diverse student body. International students share perspectives and life experiences that deeply enrich classroom discussions and elevate teaching and learning across our campus. For the individual students who come to Hanover from every corner of the globe, the power of financial aid can be life-changing. These are ambitious young adults ready to take on the world. They have the talent. They have the drive. And it is an honor for Dartmouth to be in a position to provide them with the means to realize their full potential.”
This announcement, made less than two full calendar days after the historic lawsuit was brought against Dartmouth College and 15 other elite universities, is no coincidence in our book. After all, elite colleges have often claimed to be need-blind with exception to certain groups, like waitlisted candidates or international candidates. Of course, we’d argue these schools aren’t truly need-blind to anyone so long as they ask all applicants on their application supplements as so many of them do — which admissions officers can read with their own two eyes — if students need financial aid. But the fact that they’re often openly not need-blind to certain groups, like the aforementioned groups, likely put these schools in a legal quagmire as they begin to mount their defense in the class action lawsuit. So Dartmouth suddenly makes “a historic change” to its admissions policy. Coincidence? We think not. Will some of the other 15 elite schools soon follow Dartmouth’s lead with their own “historic announcements”? Ivy Coach’s famously accurate crystal ball hereby predicts yes indeed!
But what do our readers think? Let us know your thoughts by posting a comment below. In the meantime, we’ll be running victory laps since we’ve been calling out elite colleges for many years for their bogus “need-blind” policies. Need-blind admissions, as we’ve said all along, is a farce. Oh, Dartmouth, you know we are a loyal one who loves you. From around the world we keep for you our old undying faith. But this, Dartmouth, is transparently ridiculous.
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