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Clark University Shifts to ‘Need-Aware’ Admissions Policy

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Clark University has joined an increasing number of colleges with its recent move away from a “need-blind” admissions policy.

Need-blind is the term for when an institution pays no regard to a prospective student's ability to pay at the time of admission. And while parents, guidance counselors, and institutions often tell students to disregard tuition because of available financial aid, increasing costs and difficult economic times mean many colleges are backing away and shifting more toward a “need-aware” policy framework.

Clark joins number that consider need as one factor

Many need-blind policies have been modified because of rising tuition and financial aid costs coupled with lower endowments. If not need blind, an admissions office can factor in ability to pay later in the process after determining the amount of aid available, and wait-listing some students.

Public colleges and universities typically do not factor ability to pay in the admissions process, but private institutions can usually ill-afford not to — unless they are among those to boast the largest endowments.

“While the concept of need-blind admission was developed to ensure that students were not rejected due to financial need, admission practices that utilize differential financial aid targeting have emerged recently as colleges grapple with difficult aid allocation decisions,” said the former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, William McClintick, with the release of a 2008 survey studying admission policies. “While such practices are, in many cases, well-intentioned, they provoke questions from stakeholders concerned about access for low-income students, fairness in college pricing, rising college costs, and the use of institutional aid.”

The decision in Clark's admission office was made collaboratively with trustees and senior administration.

The university's dean of admissions and financial aid, Don Honeman, told The Scarlet student newspaper that over half of recent tuition collected by students had gone directly back to students in the form of financial aid.

For the 2012-13 school year, Clark awarded approximately $49 million in financial aid. Some 85 percent of undergraduates received some form of aid to defray the cost of tuition, which sits at $39,200 for the current academic year.

Honeman said every school in the nation was facing a similar decision. He went on to say the change would only impact students on the threshold of admittance.

Also a factor in the policy change was a large rise in applicants at Clark: from 4,000 applications in 2011 to 7,300 this past fall.

The cost of college attendance

Need blind should not be confused with other policies that promise to meet the financial needs of students.

The Project on Student Debt reports seven in 10 college seniors graduating last year had student loan debt, averaging $29,400.

In the NACAP report by Donald E. Heller, the former director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University, Heller found less than one-third of all colleges were able to offer financial aid packages that met the full financial need of all admitted students.

The number of private universities that pledge both need-blind admissions and meet full demonstrated need for students is much lower, and comprised of some of the most-selective in the nation, including Ivy League schools and small liberal arts campuses.

Recently, George Washington University came under fire late last year for advertising a need-blind policy that wasn't actually reflected in the admissions process.

But one of the most egregious examples of a college making admission decisions based on aid came in 2009 at Reed College, where the institution's financial aid office directed its admissions office to replace 100 students in need of aid with 100 who could pay full price.


Related Slideshow: SLIDES: Ranking the Highest Student Loan Default Rates in Central MA

The U.S. Department of Education announced the official FY 2011 two-year and official FY 2010 three-year federal student loan cohort default rates (CDR). The national two-year cohort default rate rose from 9.1 percent for FY 2010 to 10 percent for FY 2011. The three-year cohort default rate rose from 13.4 percent for FY 2009 to 14.7 percent for FY 2010.

Below are the FY 2010 default rates for all post-secondary schools in Worcester, ranked lowest to highest.  

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#13 Holy Cross

FY 2010 Default Rate: 1.8%

No. in Default: 8
No. in Repay: 426
Enrollment figures: 2919
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#12 UMass Medical

FY 2010 Default Rate: 2.1%

No. in Default: 3
No. in Repay: 139
Enrollment figures: 1057
* University of Massachusetts Medical School
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#11 WPI

FY 2010 Default rate: 3.2%

No. in Default: 20
No. in Repay
Enrollment figures: 5049
* Worcester Polytechnic Institute
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#10 Assumption College

FY 2010 Default Rate: 3.4%

No. in Default: 21
No. in Repay: 615
Enrollment figures: 3095
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#9 Clark University

FY 2010 Default Rate: 3.9%

No. in Default: 18
No. in Repay: 454
Enrollment figures: 3718
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#8 Worcester State

FY 2010 Default Rate: 7.6%

No. in Default: 73
No. in Repay: 953
Enrollment figures: 9343
* Worcester State University
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#7 Ana Maria


FY 2010 Default Rate: 9.6%

No. in Default: 38
No. in Repay: 394
Enrollment figures: 1570
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#6 Bancroft - Massage

FY 2010 Default Rate: 12.9%

No. in Default: 4
No. in Repay: 31
Enrollment figures: 98
* Bancroft School of Massage
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#5 Nichols College

FY 2010 Default Rate: 14.5%

No. in Default: 51
No. in Repay: 351
Enrollment figures: 1914
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#4 Becker College

FY 2010 Default Rate: 16.9%

No. in Default: 106
No. in Repay: 626
Enrollment figures: 2091
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#3 Quinsigamond

FY 2010 Default Rate: 17.5%

No. in Default: 193
No. in Repay: 1099
Enrollment figures: 10167
* Quinsigamond Community College
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#2 Rob Roy

FY 2010 Default Rate: 28.3

No. in Default: 44
No. in Repay: 155
Enrollment figures: 379
* Rob Roy Academy
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#1 Toni & Guy

FY 2010 Default Rate: 28.5%

No. in Default: 6
No. in Repay: 21
Enrollment figures: 31
* Toni and Guy Hairdressing Academy

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