Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Staffers Present New Aid Policy at Campus Town Hall

<re 1993, Carleton’s admissions policy was proudly 100% need-blind. Qualified students were not denied admission because of financial restraints. Since then, shrinking budgets have forced the college to weigh need in admissions decisions for a certain percentage of students. In an open forum run by members of the Financial Aid Committee, a meeting was held to incorporate student opinions into the dialogue.

“The ideal is that we would be need blind and meet 100% of your [financial] needs,” said Rodney Oto, Associate Dean of Admissions and Director of Student Financial Services. These two practices would enable Carleton to admit students without looking at students’ ability to pay for tuition and would enable Carleton to fill gaps between what tuition costs and what each family could pay using a combination of grants, scholarships, aid awards, and student employment. However, the ideal is hard to reach.  
According to Oto, until 1993, Carleton practiced need-blind admissions and met 100% of students’ demonstrated need. However, according to Oto, “Just prior to ‘93, the financial aid budget saw a very dramatic increase—so much so that the powers that be at Carleton, really led by the faculty, decided that they needed to review the financial aid processes, procedures, and policies.” Oto continued, saying, “But the concern was that moving too far away from need-blind admissions would change the culture of the college [and] would jeopardize the diversity that the college has.” A policy was chosen stipulating that a maximum of 15%  of Carleton admissions would be need-aware. Oto explained the phrase “need-aware” by saying, “we would look at your financial aid application: that would be a consideration in your admission.” The pre-1993 policy to meet 100% of students’ demonstrated need remained in place.

In more recent years, according to Oto, “concern developed because we were able to go up to 15 percent of the entering class, but the dollars become larger as our costs have gone up, and to meet the dollar goal of what we need to control in the budget, we obviously are going to look at the students that hold the most dollars [in aid], and those are the ones that are high need, typically lower income.” Oto also mentioned a concern that such a practice could “go counter to what we’re trying to do with a diverse group of students.” With the advent of President Poskanzer’s Strategic Plan, it seemed, according to Oto, that it was “time to step away and move in a different direction with this current [financial aid] policy.” Remarking on the shortcomings of the 15% cap, Fred Rogers later said that, “The previous policy…has the downside that you have no idea what financial aid is going to cost, because you could admit anybody and they could cost whatever and that’s the amount that the college is on the hook for.”

Instead of continuing a 15% cap on need-aware admissions, the college opted to use three different metrics that the town hall panelists described as “guardrails” keeping Carleton’s financial aid practices within an acceptable range. The first of these guardrails sets the minimum average grant as 45% of the total cost of attendance at Carleton. The second ensures that at least 50% of Carleton students would receive financial aid. The third and final sets the minimum percentage of middle income students at 30%.

Regarding the guardrails, Kohen stated, “We want the three metrics to work with each other. It would be very easy to go for one of them and then neglect the other two, and that would not give us the class we want.” She also articulated that “these metrics are not targets. The numbers that you will see are not numbers that we want: [they] are numbers that if we dip below we get very concerned about. We thought that if we had more money, we could do much better than this. So we didn’t want to limit ourselves, but we wanted to make sure that we had the balance in the class that we wanted that would allow us to see if a problem was emerging.”

A question and answer session followed. Students posed a variety of questions relating to the future of financial aid at Carleton in general, whether aid awards tend to decrease over a student’s four years at Carleton, how we compare to peer institutions, correlations between income and test scores, the rising cost of tuition at Carleton, the fact that nearly half of Carleton students do not apply for financial aid, and other topics.

The opening question inquired as to how the new metrics will play out in the course of actual admissions decisions. Oto answered that, “We’re less focused on the number or percentage of students that are going to be entering as need-blind or need-sensitive and much more concerned about the qualities of the students. And yes, the money issues still come into play: I don’t want to hide that, I don’t want to sugar coat that. These metrics don’t resolve all of the budget issues dealing with financial aid, but they do give us more flexibility in what we can do to make sure that we have the right group of students entering Carleton.” 

When asked whether the new metrics would permit the admissions officers to consider financial background for more than 15% of a given class, Oto answered, “It’s possible that the new metrics give us the flexibility to go beyond the 15%. Yes, it’s possible. It sort of changes the way we look at this: we may not be so focused on what percent are being admitted need-sensitive. More important to us will likely be, well, ‘What are the qualities that the class has and are we meeting…these metrics as we go about it?’” Kohen stressed that the new metrics represent an overhaul of the previous system and that the language of the 15% cap was obsolete: “We were really trying to get rid of all language of the 15% cap. I would really rather think we changed totally the system to allow us to really get what we want instead of to obsess about a number.” Dobrow said, “The guardrails, if you notice, are moving averages over four years, so they’re broader, they allow more flexibility.”

When asked whether the third new metric prioritized the admission of middle income students over lower income students, Kohen said, “The college has a tradition that we’re not about to change of admitting students from low incomes, and the idea was not to jeopardize that at all…the fifteen percent cap was actually really hurting the lower income students more…[but] if you look at the first two [new] metrics, that takes care of the low income [students], and we need the third metric so that we don’t worry only about the lower income [students].” Oto echoed a similar sentiment, mentioning a concern, reflected in the Strategic Plan, “for the future of Carleton that we not have a bifurcated student body: those that were very needy…and on the other hand, those who could pay, and nothing in the middle…”

Rogers also argued for the necessity of raising tuition in order to continue to improve the quality of the college and account for inflation. Regarding the possibility of lowering tuition overall, Rogers explained, “If I said, here’s a place, not quite as cool, not as many interesting people, but it saves you five thousand dollars, most of you probably wouldn’t make that tradeoff…Quality matters a lot, and that’s why we’re in this business.”

After the meeting, CSA representative Sofia Chang ‘16 reflected that, “I think the faculty in charge of creating the policy were able to clarify not only how the metrics will work but also that they believe the new policy is upholding the values of Carleton to foster a diverse student body. I believe the next step is to engage a wider section of students in these issues…I think that Professor Kohen’s recommendation that students organize themselves to build a bigger voice was insightful—I also wish to see reciprocal action on the part of the administrators to build more student involvement into the system, and to make sure that the student voices that do exist within the system are empowered and are as representative of the student body as possible.” Comments made by Abhimanyu Lele ’16, however, had a slightly different tone. Lele reflected that, “I really wish that they had been more explicit about how admission works in a need sensitive situation.” He also found it “troubling” that the percentage of low income students admitted to Carleton and receiving financial aid appears to underrepresent the percentage of low income citizens in the general population. The large turnout at the town hall meeting and conflicting remarks from students indicate that issues of admissions continue to be evolving and vital in the Carleton community.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *