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2013 Fall Issue 5 (October 25, 2013)

New Metrics Abolish Cap on Need-Sensitive Admissions

October 25, 2013
By Will Grey

Carleton has revised its financial aid policy, a change that will affect future classes of students from ‘18 onwards. 

Previously, considerations of financial need were ‘capped’ at the last 15% of applicants. In other words, the first 85% of admitted students were admitted need-blind, while the remaining 15% could be admitted after financial considerations.

That cap has been removed by the revised policy, to be replaced by an annual review of admissions statistics according to a set of metrics that measure class composition.

“The cap forced us to make decisions about certain kinds of diversity while disregarding others,” said Rod Oto, Associate Dean of Admissions. “[The new policy] gives us more flexibility to form the ideal class, to make adjustments that we feel are appropriate. How well it works remains to be seen, so we’re reserving final judgment. But I think that it will be helpful to the College.”

Daniela Kohen, a member of a subgroup of the financial aid planning committee and professor of chemistry, helped design the new metrics against which the success of future admissions policy will be evaluated.

“We wanted to move to a more outcome-based policy while continuing to fully support those in need of financial aid and maintaing a broad economic distribution,” said Kohen. “[But] we didn’t want to over-prescribe.”

The metrics Kohen designed set three ‘thresholds’ for admissions statistics. In rough terms, these three thresholds seek to maintain: 1) an average of 50% students receiving financial aid; 2) need-based grant aid at 45% percent of the cost of attendance and; 3) over 30% of financial aid recipients in middle-income ranges.

“Reaching these floors will trigger a large community conversation [about admissions policy],” said Kohen.

“We expect [admissions statistics] to stay roughly the same,” She added. “The other thing we wanted to achieve with this policy change is to spend [financial aid] money the best that we are able to.”

“We expect the numbers [around these three thresholds] to stay roughly the same,” emphasized Kohen. “But the other thing we wanted to achieve with this policy change was to be able to spend aid the best that we could. So if we needed to ask for more money for financial aid we could make a strong case.”

“Our promise is to still be as need-blind as we can,” said Paul Thiboutot, Director of Admissions. “We’re still committed to having at least half of students on need-based aid, having our students come from diverse areas of the country, and trying to achieve representation of a socio-economic distribution that is proportionally balanced.

The essential difference between the old and new financial aid policies is, instead of the monitoring being on being able to claim 15% need sensitivity and 85% need blind, we are still as need blind as we can be, but now we [in Admissions] can more freely pursue the ideal compositional distribution of students that we want for our classes.”

Financial aid and socioeconomic status are seldom discussed at Carleton, according to Sam Braslow ’15 and Sara Klugman ’14.

“People don’t talk about finances or financial aid at all,” said Klugman.

The impact of this policy change, which has thus far been muted, is not likely to change the frequency of these topics’ discussion by Carls, but it may succeed in helping the admissions staff to create balanced classes of students.

“We need to see the impact of [the policy change] before it can be judged,” said Braslow. “But it’s unlikely that the topic will come up much.”

Anthony Abercrombie ’14 said that he didn’t believe the policy change would cause a significant change to the Carleton student body, even if it did significantly impact the socioeconomic distribution of its constituent students.

“I don’t think a change in demographics would be reflected by a significant change in the campus atmosphere-- financial need is just not something that’s talked about much,” said Abercrombie. “But ultimately I think that, as long as we maintain support for people who need it, the fact that we’re not talking about [financial aid] is a good thing.”

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