On its website and in promotional materials, GW has marketed itself as a need-blind university, only taking into consideration a student’s academic performance and extracurricular involvement when that student applies for admission. But according to the report in the Hatchet, financial hardship is not only a consideration when it comes time to offer admission to a student, but grounds for placement on the school’s waitlist even for students who are otherwise academically in line with the incoming class. Even worse, students who were headed for the waitlist were offered admission because they could afford to pay:
Students who meet GW’s admissions standards, but are not among the top applicants, can shift from “admitted” to “waitlisted” if they need more financial support from GW. These decisions affect up to 10 percent of GW’s roughly 22,000 applicants each year, said Laurie Koehler, the newly hired associate provost for enrollment management.
Admissions representatives do not consider financial need during the first round of reading applications. But before applicants are notified, the University examines its financial aid budget and decides which students it can actually afford to admit.
Without knowing, wealthier students who were slated to land on the waitlist are accepted, taking the spots of students who would need more financial aid from GW.
The practice of taking a student’s financial situation into account during the admissions process is hardly novel. The number of schools that are truly need-blind is small and usually reserved for some of the most well-endowed, highly selective universities in the country. But for years, George Washington University had counted itself among that elite list while practicing need-aware policies in its admissions process. Perhaps no college in the U.S. better represents the prohibitive expense of a four-year college education than GW, home to one of the highest undergraduate tuition rates in the nation.
The industry publication Inside Higher Ed also noted that the admission by the GW administration also points to several violations of the Statement of Principles of Good Practice, a code of ethics published by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
The university released a statement on Monday afternoon, defending their decision as a simple act of clarification. “The university’s admissions practices have not changed with regard to how financial aid requests are factored in,” Senior Associate Provost for Enrollment Management Laurie Koehler told Inside Higher Ed. “What has changed is the new leadership in enrollment management. What we are trying to do is increase the transparency of the admissions process.”
Recent studies, including one from the National Bureau of Economic Research, have shown that high-achieving, low-income students who apply to highly selective, top tier universities like GW graduate at rates far above the national average,and actually gain admittance at a higher rate than students of the same academic and economic stature who don’t apply to the top colleges for financial reasons. But inaccurate or misleading information by college admissions officers represents yet another roadblock between the kinds of academically successful, low-income students that have historically thrived and their top college choice. Another report from the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute found that a college’s financial aid policies can be a deciding factor for low-income students when deciding to apply to a school or not. And even at institutions that offset their high cost of tuition with larger aid packages, the price tag itself can be a turnoff for students who are thinking of applying.
The revelation at GW comes at a time when many of the nation’s premiere colleges and universities are redoubling their efforts to enroll a more socioeconomically diverse student body. The College Board, the private company that administers the SAT exams that many colleges rely heavily on when weighing admission decisions, has begun supplying campuses with the names of those students who perform in the top 15 percent of test takers and come from families in the bottom quartile of earned income, though those efforts are lagging at many of the top colleges.
This also isn’t the first time that GW has found itself in hot water for misrepresenting itself to the public. Last year, the Washington, D.C. school was kept off of the prestigious U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of the top colleges and universities after it admitted that some of the statistics it had been providing about its freshmen classes for years were artificially inflated.