by Julie Gerstein '00 and Stephanie Jones '97
In a report released this week, the task force on admissions and financial aid recommended the College move from a need-blind to a need-sensitive admissions policy.
"While continuing to make 90 to 95 percent of the admissions decisions based on academic promise alone, we recommend that for the final 5 to 10 percent of the decisions, [financial] need be considered as well as academic promise," the report states.
Currently the College makes admissions decisions based solely on the strength of students' applications to the College, a practice known as need-blind admissions. Under the task force's recommendation, an applicant's ability to pay for her education would be considered if the strength of her application fell in the lower five to 10 percent of the applicant pool.
In addition to changing the College's admissions policy in place since 1983, the task force recommends that the College continue to be full-funding in financial aid, as well as use preferential and differential packaging. The College does all of these things now, and has met the full-demonstrated financial need of all admitted students since 1983.
Preferential packaging is used in the financial aid packages of particularly academically desirable students. The College awards these students with larger grants rather than the maximum amount of loan, such that they graduate from Mount Holyoke owing less than they might if they graduated from another institution.
Differential packaging is used for students who are considered "low-need." In these students' financial aid packages the College awards work study, then some amount of grant before they award the loan.
"Differential packaging provides 'better' packages to financial aid recipients who are especially desirable because they contribute substantial amounts of tuition revenue," explains the task force's report. The College began this practice a year ago, awarding financially desirable students with a $1000 grant before loans.
"We believe the policies presented ... will increase net tuition revenue, while at the same time preserve the College's commitment to access, diversity, and quality," the task force wrote in its report.
The task force's recommendations, if accepted by the EPC and the Board of Trustees, could save the College $1-$3 million annually when all four classes enrolled have been admitted using this partially need-sensitive admissions policy. If accepted, the policy would probably be in affect for the class of 2002.
Why was the task force established?
The Educational Priorities Committee established the ad hoc task force, chaired by Professor of Economics Mike Robinson, to review the College's financial aid policies and "consider alternatives ... consistent with principles that assure access for students at every level of income ..."
According to a letter from President Joanne Creighton accompanying the report, the EPC "agreed early on that [the College] must control unsustainable growth in financial aid."
The need-blind admissions policy, combined with the College's full-funding financial aid policy, has led to out-of-control spending on financial aid, according to Robinson and College Treasurer Mary Jo Maydew.
"[The recommended policy] is about managing the amount of subsidy we give to students," Robinson said.
This year, 1996-97, the College spent a total of $21.4 million on financial aid, compared to $6.5 million 10 years ago in 1986-87. The increased expense means the College receives only 46.7 percent of the tuition it bills out, according to a report from Maydew on the financial framework of the College.
Because the College admits all candidates, regardless of their ability to pay, and also commits to met the full-demonstrated financial need of admitted candidates, it has no control over financial aid expenditures.
"Much of the work of the annual budget process since 1989-90 has been finding ways to absorb this dramatic increase in financial aid costs," wrote Maydew in the report.
Approximately 73 percent of the student body receives some form of financial aid from the College. Financial need is met with three sources: Federal Stafford Loans, work study from the federal government and the College, and grants from the College. The average grant from the College totals about $15,000.
The task force believes the changes in policy will not affect the composition of the student body because the "magnitude of the change is small enough."
"If the goal is diversity, it's probably the best way to go," Robinson said.
Currently, approximately 2,000 students apply to Mount Holyoke each year. In keeping up the acceptance rate, the College admits 1,200 of those students in the hopes that about 500 will choose to attend. The recommended need-sensitive admissions policy would affect about 120 admitted students at most.
"It doesn't make sense to go down the need-sensitive path much further than this," Robinson said.
The task force recommended "improving our attractiveness to high income and high ability high school graduates [as] the keys to our future success," and emphasized that changes in financial aid were only one part of making the College financially sound.
The task force included a list of other financial aid options with its report.
A policy of admit/deny along with a financial aid waiting list would admit students based solely on the strength of their application. The College would then award aid, beginning with the most highly rated students, until their financial aid budget ran out. Applicants not receiving aid would be placed on a financial aid waiting list. The College followed this policy prior to 1983 when it became officially need-blind and full-funding.
Robinson said such a policy forces the College to raise its acceptance rate because those students not receiving aid would be unlikely to attend Mount Holyoke. Raising the acceptance rate would compromise the College's position in ratings systems like US News and World Report.
Targeted aid, also referred to as "gapping," is a complex formula awarding financial aid according to how academically desirable a candidate is, combined with how likely that candidate is to want to come to Mount Holyoke. The practice awards just enough money, without necessarily meeting full-demonstrated need, to get the student to attend, leaving a gap between the financial need and the financial aid offer.
"By carefully modeling the enrollment decision and adjusting aid offers accordingly the College could both increase net tuition revenue and improve the class profile in other ways," the report explains.
For example, a student who is borderline academically desirable is likely to attend the College if accepted and so the College can leave a wider gap between her estimated financial need and her financial aid offer. Similarly, the College would tend to leave a smaller gap between the aid award and the student's need if that student were academically desirable.
The report also explores merit aid options. Merit aid is awarded with no consideration of financial need and has the potential to raise the overall class quality. The report warns that merit aid could be expensive if a competitor were to start an extensive merit aid program.
The students will get a chance to ask questions on the report's findings at a forum on November 14 at 6:30pm in the New York Room. Robinson, Maydew, Creighton, student members of the EPC Elizabeth O'Donoghue '97 and Jessica Rouse '99 will all be present to answer questions.
Copies of the report can be obtained through hall presidents and by calling the president's office at x2500.
Admissions and Financial Aid terms
Full-Funding: All admitted students receive a financial aid package (grant, loan and work study) that fully meets their need as estimated by the College. Mount Holyoke has met full need since 1983.
- Differential Packaging: Awards some grant to some low-need students before calculating their loans.
- Preferential Packaging: Awards some grant to academically desirable students before calculating their loans.
Budgeted Financial Aid: The absence of meeting full demonstrated need.
- Admit/Deny: Aid applicants would be offered aid, starting with the most highly academically rated and working downwards. The College stops offering aid when its financial aid budget is exhausted and applicants can be placed on a financial aid waiting list.
- Merit Aid: Aid awarded based on ability and ignorant of financial need.
- Gapping: (also known as "targeted aid") A complex formula awards aid abased on a combination of how likely a student is to attend and the strength of their application. A borderline academically desirable candidate is usually more likely to attend so the financial aid offer would leave a wider "gap" between the student's demonstrated need.
Needs Analysis: The determination of need by the Financial Aid Office.
Need Blind: Need is not considered when deciding whether to admit an applicant. The College has been officially need-blind since 1983.
Need Sensitive: Need may be considered when deciding when to admit an applicant.
Overlap: The percent of admitted students who are also admitted to a competitor institution.
Win Ratio: The ratio of students attending our college to the total number of students from the overlap attending either our college or the competitor institution.
Compiled from the Glossary of Admissions and Financial Aid Terms and the Financial Aid and Admissions Task Force Preliminary Draft Statement.