by Marian Wang, ProPublica.
George Washington University — which got in trouble last year for misreporting admissions data to bolster its college ranking — is making yet another confession.
The university has been misrepresenting its admissions and financial-aid policy for years, touting a “need-blind” admissions policy while in fact giving preference to wealthier students in the final stages of the admissions process, according to the student newspaper, the GW Hatchet, which first reported on the practice. Meanwhile, hundreds of academically comparable but needier students were put on the wait-list for admission because they lacked the financial resources.
Many colleges and universities like to tout “need-blind” admissions processes, or the practice of judging their applicants’ academic qualifications strictly on their merits and making decisions without factoring in applicants’ wealth. In recent years, some colleges that have traditionally been need-blind have weighed whether to become more need-aware.
Until a few days ago, the undergraduate admissions page for George Washington University stated, “Requests for financial aid do not affect admissions decisions.” That language was removed over the weekend. (Here’s the archived version.)
The updated page now explains that the admissions committee “evaluates” candidates initially without factoring in their financial need, but then considers applicants’ financial resources “at the point of finalizing admissions decisions.”
“I believe using the phrase ‘need-aware’ better represents the totality of our practices than using the phrase ‘need-blind,'” Laurie Koehler, senior associate provost for enrollment management, said in a statement to ProPublica.
“What we are trying to do is increase the transparency of the admissions process,” said Koehler.
Top GW administrators have repeatedly stated over the years that the university is need-blind. When the student newspaper in 2011 did a story about how some colleges are moving away from need-blind admissions, one administrator told the paper, “We’re still need-blind.”
It’s worth noting that the “need-blind” label can be as much about marketing as it is about giving all applicants a fair shot.
Many schools are “need-blind” but don’t actually give out much need-based aid. We recently detailed how universities, looking to boost their bottom lines, are increasingly using financial-aid dollars to attract wealthier students.
“It sounds better to people to say, ‘We’re need-blind.’ People think that’s a badge of courage,” said Matt Malatesta, vice president for admissions, financial aid, and enrollment at Union College, a small liberal arts college that practices need-aware admissions.