Need-Blind Wes Is Back

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This courtesy of Evan Bieder ’15:

After a brief hiatus, Need Blind Wes is back!

For those who don’t know, in 2012 Wesleyan terminated its need blind admissions policy. As a result, the socio-economic status of about 10% of applicants for the Class of 2017 played a role in their acceptance/rejection. Last year, many students pushed back against this new policy (through a banner dropan occupation of a Board of Trustees meetinga homecoming protest, and a number of other actions/discussions archived on the Need Blind website), but the policy was implemented nonetheless.

This discriminatory policy has already impacted Wesleyan’s socio-economic diversity. From the class of 2016 to the class of 2017 the number of students receiving financial aid decreased from 48% to 42%, the number of students receiving grant aid decreased from 44% to 37%, and the number of first generation four-year college students decreased from 16% to 13%. 

One simple way to show your disapproval of this trend is to email/call President Roth at mroth[at]wesleyan[dot]edu/860-685-3500 and Vice President for Finance and Administration John Meerts at jmeerts[at]wesleyan[dot]edu/860-685-2607 telling them that you are disturbed by the demographic shifts the new need-discriminatory policy has caused and because of that you (and your family) are not planning to donate to the University this year. Giving earmarked contributions to financial aid will not solve this issue and is functionally nothing more than a vote of confidence in the University’s policies and priorities as a whole: only 30% of any contribution made specifically to financial aid goes to financial aid, and 70% goes into the general operating budget. Giving contributions “directly” to financial aid will not solve this problem, because these donations don’t go directly to financial aid. What will solve this issue and make Wesleyan a more fair and just institution is a major shift in priorities, the urgency of which we will show the University by refusing to donate altogether.

If you’re looking to get even more involved, this Homecoming weekend we’ll be continuing to raise awareness of the current discriminatory admissions practices. If you’d like to join us in outreach to parents and alums through discussion and flyer distribution, please meet on Saturday at the Usdan outdoor tables at 11:30 am (first shift) and 1:30 pm (second shift). Also, if you’d like to join our listserv just email Anwar Batte ’13 (abatte[at]wesleyan[dot]edu) and he’ll add you on.

Date: Saturday, November 2
Time: 11:30 am and 1:30 pm
Place: Usdan outdoor tables

13 thoughts on “Need-Blind Wes Is Back

  1. '17

    It upsets me greatly that people believe that not donating is an effective means of getting need blind admissions back. A school cannot sustain need blind admissions without a healthy endowment, and unfortunately Wesleyan’s is not up to par right now. The only way to resolve this issue is by growing the endowment by A LOT. If you value need blind admissions, choosing to not donate is the most counter-productive decision you could make.

    Also, the concept of the need-blind admissions is paradoxical. At even our need-blind peer schools, applicants who attended expensive prep schools are given a leg up in admissions. Students who come from wealthy backgrounds have SAT scores padded by tutoring and dazzling arrays of extra-curriculars that their parents funded and cultivated. College admissions has an intrinsic correlation with wealth, and crippling our school’s financial viability for a “need-blind” banner isn’t going to change this.

  2. Ben Solnit

    I am an alum, class of 79 and I have been upset about the decision to drop need blind and, even more so, the lack of meaningful dialogue that the administration has been wiling to engage in regarding the issue. I was at homecoming and attended the Dar Williams concert, given to raise money for financial aid. After the concert, there was a Q & A. I asked Pres. Roth whether there was a plan to get back to need blind in x years and I did not get an answer, other than need blind could be resumed if WesU raised a lot more money. I think alum is absolutely correct that, regardless of where we come out on priorities of nonfinancial aid spending, we need to get some straight talk and engagment from the administration.
    However, it’s also clear that the 30% figure is specious, and not a helpful tack to take. Nor is withholding donations – I believe it’s called cutting off your nose to spite your face – the less money WesU raises, the more pressure is put on the endowment and to further cut financial aid
    I will be writing (again) to Pres. Roth and, thanks to Need-Blind Wesleyan, also to John Meerts along these lines, and I urge all alums who are concerned with the issue to do the same.
    Ben A. Solnit ’79

  3. curious

    can someone give me a link to something that can verify the facts about financial aid? aka the 30 and 70 percent fact that is mentioned? or at least a number to call? information to ask for from a specific administrative office?

  4. alum

    “What will solve this issue and make Wesleyan a more fair and just institution is a major shift in priorities, the urgency of which we will show the University by refusing to donate altogether.”

    I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – the money is simply. not. there. Find me more than 1 or 2 schools with an endowment/student lower than Wesleyan’s that is fully need blind and full need. All of our need blind peers (Vassar, Hamilton, Williams, etc.) are wealthier than us. Plain and simple. Not donating is the worst thing to do. Where are you getting this info that only 30% of earmarked money goes to financial aid? Well over half the endowment (which, to be fair, is different from annual giving) is locked up in restrictions, mostly in financial aid.

    1. benny d '14

      It’s all about priorities. Due to financial constraints, any school such as ours has a to make choices about what we consider to be a top priority. For me at least, explicitly discriminating against poor people in our admissions policy is unconscionable.Accordingly, I’m in favor of making serious sacrifices to preserve the diversity and reclaim some semblance of basic moral integrity for our institution. These sacrifices could include, but are not limited to, reductions in landscaping costs (such as wild-wes), reductions in capital expenditure (see our brand new multi-million-dollar track), re-organization of housing (more dorms/apts, less wood-frames), and requiring work-study from every student . Until the Wesleyan community has assessed every one of our numerous expenditures, and said “yes, this cost is more central to our mission than the ideal of equal opportunity in admissions” we cannot (at least ethically speaking), merely shrug our shoulders and bemoan the fact that the money isn’t there, regardless of whatever other elite/elitist institutions chose to do.

      A technical point: As for the earmarked fin-aid factoid given above, this comes from the fact that Wesleyan has capped its aid expenditure at 30% of the operating budget. Endowment gifts of any kind are not permitted to change that percentage. Functionally this means that for every dollar given to the financial aid endowment (or annual fund) 70 cents of “tethered” money is automatically moved into the operating budget. If you think that Wesleyan needs more money to afford ethical admissions practices, I’d encourage you, and other alums, to put pressure on the administration to allow gifts that actually change the percentile spent on financial aid.

      1. alum

        You’ve made the mistake that many have made, confusing spending any money at all with spending too much. Wesleyan already is extremely thrifty and conservative with spending on non-academics. Here are the facts, directly from Wesleyan’s various annual reports:

        Landscaping costs: 89% of Wesleyan’s campus buildings are over 25 years old, vs. 53% of peers. Wesleyan, despite having to make more reapirs, has a backlog of $43 MILLION of repairs (not new construction, not new spaces, but simply maintenance) on existing buildings. This is money that was consciously not spent. Wesleyan employs significant fewer landscaping works than peers (26 acres per landscaping FTE vs. 18 acres per FTE for peers). Money spent per FTE on landscaping materials: Wesleyan $2,200 vs. over $8,000 per FTE for peers.

        Energy consumption: Wesleyan: 120,000 BTU/ GSF of building space vs. 140,000 BTU/GSF for peers

        Capital expenditures: Wesleyan cancelled the $160 million science center a few years ago, cancelled plans for a university museum. As for the track: another misconception. It was practically more expensive to keep repairing the 23 year old track as it was, compared to just building a new one. Did you notice all of the repair patches on the old one? The turf field was built in the middle of the track by a targeted couple of donations that was done because it was cheaper to put the field in with the track as one project. The new track was needed to keep having a track team, not an extraneous project on a whim.

        I agree 110% on housing reorganization. The woodframes are a money pit and need to be sold/demolished, with dorms/apartments built instead.

        We could also do with fewer deans.

        We do need to keep up with the Jones’s, per se, because otherwise, the most talented students are going to go elsewhere. If I get into Welseyan and Vassar, but Vassar has nicer music practice rooms, opportunities for sports, funding for putting on plays, etc. and I get equal financial aid, guess where I’m going? Wesleyan, at this point, can barely afford to be as generous as peers with the packages it IS giving, and would have to eliminate any semblance of a campus experience in order to even consider going no loan, which would be ridiculous.

        I agree that we should pressure the administration to give numbers in regards to what endowment level needs to be hit in order to bring back need blind. I also agree that we should be able to increase the financial aid budget yearly with regards to giving. However, your and BZOD’s logic is incorrect with regards to $0.30 on the dollar being spent for financial aid:

        The financial aid budget was $55 million last year. Wesleyan raised $42 million last year, a majority of which went into the endowment. Even assuming all of that went into financial aid for this year alone , the regular budget from student charges and endowment payout has to cover a lot of financial aid every year. This means that it is not even mathematically possible for donated financial aid dollars to only be worth $0.30 on the dollar for financial aid. All of the money donated for financial aid is being used for it, regardless of whether it’s for the annual fund or the endowment. The question is how much of the “general” pot is being used to fund the difference, and how generous Wesleyan is being is what determines that difference.

        The issue here is not about priority. Wesleyan has had to punch above its weight with regards to finances for many years, and runs a pretty tight ship. The issue here is about transparency, and where Wesleyan needs to be in order to return to need blind. I would be demanding to know how much $$$ needs to be raised to bring back need blind, instead of accusing the school of doing something it’s not (spending wildly, which it most certainly is not).

        1. benny d '14

          I do not argue that any money is too much money. That’s an absurd reading of my post. Instead I’m saying we need to think about the trade offs. I’m disappointed that you and I disagree about the priority placed on more fair admissions policy, but that’s fair (rhetorically speaking at least). What’s not reasonable is your argument that there are technical answers to the question “do we have enough to be need blind.” The transparency you are pushing for on that question HAS to be informed by a collective conception of where we prioritize preventing discrimination vs. other things we spend money on. You’ve argued the new track was a necessity for the university. I strongly disagree. And that’s a fair conversation to have. But the community was never given a chance to have it, on this or on many other issues. Instead we just “defaulted,” as we often do, to a policy which hurts the least advantaged members of our society.

          As for our running debate on gifts, you’re absolutely right to say that the question is how much of the ‘genera’ or ‘untethered’ pot goes to financial aid: Under the current policy, for every dollar given to fin-aid .70 of general funds are removed. Which is essentially what this post says, without regard for some fictitious accounting maneuvers. In my view, that reflects bad priorities. And, at the very least people deserve to be alerted to the actual impact of their gift when they consider giving to this school.

          1. alum

            The track will pay for itself with money saved via renovations. It’s kind of ridiculous to have conversations about necessary things. Are you arguing that Wesleyan shouldn’t have a track at all? Because that’s a very different discussion. It’s a non-argument because if Wesleyan doesn’t build a new track, it spends an obscene amount of money renovating it to keep it safe every year. It’s not new track vs nothing, it’s new track vs renovation, and new track is cheaper. I think you missed my point about fundraising dollars. It is completely false to say donated dollars only contribute 0.30 per dollar for financial aid, when the total donated dollars doesn’t even equal the yearly financial aid budget. It’s mathematically impossible. There is no fictitious accounting maneuver going on. The fin aid budget was 55 mil last year. Wes got 40 mil in donations. If all of it was directed towards fin aid, Wes has to cover 15 million. If only 30% goes towards, that’s 43 mil Wes has to cover. The point is, equating yearly donating with the financial aid budget is literally apples and oranges. It’s not about institutional priority here. As I’ve said before, Wesleyan does not have enough money to be need blind. What else do you cut?

          2. benny d '14

            We’re talking past eachother, running out of page width. So one last time: To put my argument another way, under Wesleyan’s current budget out makes no difference if you give a gift to the annual fund as fin aid or general funds. The university always spends 30 precent of its
            Budget on fin aid. I get that the school “subsidizes” our fin aid pool with money not earmarked as such, but that doesn’t change any of the above. And yeah, you can put me in the “Poor students before having an outdoor and indoor track” column.

          3. alum

            It didn’t make a difference before the change in policy with regards to giving to fin aid or general funds. Wesleyan spent it all anyway, because donations didn’t cover financial aid to begin with. Wesleyan simply would put less in the fin aid pot from the general budget if fin aid giving was higher. All targeted donations do is lock in money for something, it doesn’t boost spending in that area, and never has. AGain, the $0.30 on the dollar argument holds no water. Should increased financial aid giving increase financial aid? An argument can certainly be made for that, but it was never and currently isn’t the case. Plus, an argument against that policy is that the focus really should be on the endowment, because that will secure solid financial aid long into the future. Most of the endowment funds being raised currently are targeted donations for shcolarships, so Wes is indeed working on that.

            As I said before, Wesleyan is already running a very tight ship. You weren’t on campus in 2008 during the recession, but Wesleyan had to cut $30 million from the budget. Wesleyan did so without affecting financial aid (still need blind at the time), and in fact, stuck with its then-recently announced no-loans policy for those making under $40k per year even as its endowment plummeted. There really isn’t much left to cut at this point.

            Another poster mentioned the targeted donation for the turf field, and as mentioned, that money wouldn’t have been donated at all if it wasn’t being used for the track. I’ve seen that project be used as a scapegoat for needless spending multiple times, and it simply isn’t the case.

            You said “I’m disappointed that you and I disagree about the priority placed on more equitable admissions policy, but that’s fair, at least rhetorically speaking :) . What’s not reasonable, is your argument that there are technical answers to the question “do we have enough to be need blind.” The transparency you are pushing for on that question HAS to be informed by a collective conception of where we prioritize preventing discrimination vs. other things we spend money on.”

            I think financial aid should be the #1 priority; we don’t disagree. I was extremely upset when it was announced Wes was moving the 90% need blind instead of 100% (though keep in mind Wes was never need blind for internationals or transfers, so it wasn’t actually 100% before). However, I wasn’t upset about priorities, because priorities didn’t change. What did change was a realization that Wesleyan doesn’t have enough money to be need blind, which you mistake for a change in priorities. If Wesleyan had a $2 billion endowment, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because Wesleyan would be fully need blind. Why? Because it could afford it then.

            There is a technical answer as to “do we have enough to be need blind.” Colleges have financial models, it’s how you grow an endowment out to $700 million or ($1.8 billion as our friends in Massachusetts have done). You look at your endowment spending rate and such, and compare to peers as to what % of your budget is being spent on financial aid. As I said, you have to keep up with the Joneses or you are going to lose the best students to other schools. It’s sad, but true. If we start degrading the student experience (non-academic), for what are these students coming to Wesleyan? The same quality classes can be had at dozens of other schools.

            I’m guessing that Wesleyan hasn’t announced a target because the current capital campaign isn’t going to raise enough money to get us to where need-blind can be sustainable again. Pretty sad, but that’s what 25 years of endowment and spending mismanagement does. Thankfully the ship has been righted and hopefully need-blind gets reinstated sooner than later. A 9-figure donation would really help out…

            And let’s not kid ourselves that Wesleyan or any other schools has ever been fully need blind. Zip codes have different incomes, and I bet admissions can guess a student’s family’s income to the exact quartile or better without even looking at their tax returns.

          4. Clarifying 123

            What do people not understand about the track being privately funded by specific donations from current families and alumni of the sports teams? This was not an institutional decision but one that people used their own money for improving what they need.

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