What’s the Twittersphere saying about the Times piece? Click past the jump.
A weekend New York Times article covers Wesleyan’s change in admissions policy, giving a national and international platform to some of the activism surrounding need blind here on campus. With little communication to the alumni and larger Wesleyan community about the recent change in admissions policy, for many alums this could be the first they hear of the policy shift, a topic we’ve been abuzz with for months. Not only did my mom text me this morning to check the article out, but other people are wildly sharing it, too: it is listed in the top-emailed articles on the NYT website, and the tweeting world is hot on the topic.
The article cites financial instability as threatening diversity at small elite colleges, specifically Wesleyan and Grinnell. Small schools like our own have been steadily raising tuition, while families are increasingly unable to meet rising costs in a weak economy. Richard Perez-Pena writes,
As a result, more students need financial aid than did a few years ago, they need much more of it on average, and colleges have fewer resources with which to provide it, though a major expansion of the federal Pell Grant program has made up some of the difference.
Wesleyan is described as having “had the most heated recent debate.” Disappointingly, then, no students are quoted in the piece, but President Roth gives a shout out to student activism, saying “I applaud the students’ commitment to our values,” and adds, “I did not think that the economic model we were using would be sustainable in even the midterm, over the next decade.” This is out of character given his recent confrontations with chalking Wesleyan students and Nemo Allen ’12 from Democracy Now!. Links in the NYT article direct readers to two Argus articles about student activism surrounding the barge-in at the Trustee meeting and protest at the Homecoming football game. Additional coverage here and here. Added to this semester’s memorably heated moments—but unmentioned in the Times—are the artistic chalk bomb, Alumni letter asking to withhold alumni donations, and parent assembly infiltrations.
NPR has a story this week on how the financial cancer attacking many elite private colleges—that is, more money coming out than in—is affecting schools like Grinnell College, MIT, and, of course, Wes. The focus is on recent struggles over need-blind admissions. Grinnell seems to be an unusual case; despite not being in the same admissions tier as Wes (with an acceptance rate of 43%), it has enjoyed a rosy financial situation thanks in no small part to Warren Buffett sitting on its board. This has allowed it to pay 60% of its students’ costs, which is a higher rate than any other school except Harvard.
Even Grinnell, however, is showing the first signs of trouble, and says it has reached the point where it has had to switch some of its grants to loans.
“We don’t get in a room and say, ‘OK, do we give more aid here or do we give a raise to a professor over here?’ It’s never that stark, but behind the curtain, what’s happening is this tradeoff,” says Kington.
The towering monolith of MIT, meanwhile, told NPR it would never ever ever in a million years end need-blind admissions. “That’s one of our rock-solid principles. It’s sort of built into our DNA,” said MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson. Hopefully we will not have to see the unsustainable financial models and practices of these elite universities bring them, in 10 or 20 years, to the point Wesleyan is at now. NPR says the end of need-blind policies has sustained “some backlash” here—a big understatement.
Grinnell, like Wesleyan, is considering some fierce changes to its financial aid policies. As Kevin Kiley of Inside Higher Ed, the same writer who reported on Wesleyan’s policy change this summer, writes:
Grinnell College, which this year reported the fifth-largest endowment of any liberal arts college, announced Thursday that it would spend the next few months engaged in a conversation with campus stakeholders about changing its financial aid policies—including potentially, but probably not, going as far as making changes to need-blind admission.
Grinnell has about 1700 students and an endowment of roughly $1.5 billion. This puts their endowment per capita in the range of $800,000, or roughly four times that of Wesleyan. However, “the amount [Grinnell] spends on financial aid as a portion of its gross tuition revenue” is currently above 60%, while Wesleyan’s is only projected to be to be 37% in 2012.
As Kiley notes, Grinnell’s finances are in wonderful shape as compared with other top liberal arts colleges (including Wesleyan), and its announcement “could be a bellwether that the sector as a whole is reconsidering the model.”