Few issues have been pricklier in recent years than whether or not Brown should have an admission policy that is “need-blind,” that accepts students based on their academic merits only, regardless of their ability to pay. Under current Brown policy, when the admission office makes its last round of cuts, some otherwise qualified students are rejected because there is not enough University aid available to help them pay the nearly $34,000-a-year bill for tuition, room, and board. University administrators estimate that in a typical year about 5 to 10 percent of incoming students are admitted in part because they don’t need University financial aid.
To Director of College Admission Michael Goldberger, the policy is frustrating. “You work very, very hard for the entire year to pick the best, brightest [students],” he says. “When you’re not permitted to admit people because we don’t have enough money, it’s very difficult.”
Goldberger’s job may soon get easier. The University has now taken its first major steps toward implementing a need-blind plan, thanks to a May report outlining what needs to be done and how much it will cost. Authored by trustee Fred Alper ’60, four administrators, a professor, and a student, the report stresses the potency of the issue: “Need-blind admission,” the authors write, “can do for Brown in the moral and philosophical arenas of the University what the New Curriculum did in the academic arena.”
So what’s the need-blind price tag? This year 38 percent of the entering class received University scholarship grants; based on statistics from other schools, Brown would have to raise that figure to 43 percent to be need-blind. This represents an additional cost of $3 million to $8 million, but for planning purposes the Alper committee assumed the amount would be $6 million. This money, according to the plan preferred by the majority of the committee’s members, would come almost entirely from a fund-raising effort aimed at phasing in the change over eight years.
One of the strongest supporters of need-blind admission is President Sheila Blumstein, who, after spending much of the summer poring over the Alper report, presented her own proposal to the Corporation in October. In an interview before her presentation, she declined to reveal details of her plan but said it is “absolutely in the spirit of the Alper report.” She predicted that the Corporation will adopt a workable need-blind plan during this academic year.
Blumstein and others argue that the issue is not only a moral one. Because Brown is the only Ivy that’s not need-blind, the current policy hurts the University in the competition for talent. “We want to attract the best students,” she says, but according to the report some guidance counselors direct less-wealthy students away from the University because of this admission-policy wrinkle. In addition, Goldberger believes that some students who can afford to attend Brown may be opting not to apply because, he says, “people associate not being need-blind with being less diverse.”
Despite the need, however, Blumstein stresses that Brown cannot undercut such spending priorities as paying faculty competitive salaries, upgrading residence halls, funding graduate fellowships, and providing adequate classroom space and computers. “If we’re to say, ‘Welcome to Brown. We’re need-blind, but guess what? We have no books, we have no faculty,’ then we’re not Brown anymore,” she says. “We have a responsibility to ensure that whoever is here is going to get the best quality education we can provide.”