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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Aid Budget Can’t Help All

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Carleton’s admissions brochures highlight the College’s generous financial aid policies and its diverse study body.

Yet, Carleton is a need-aware school rather than a need-blind school, calling into question whether the financial aid policy could be improved to increase the diversity of the student body and to improve equity in the admissions process.

In the process of reviewing applications from prospective students, a college may have a policy that is either “need-blind,” choosing to ignore students’ financial need in admissions decisions, or “need-aware,” using financial need as one determining factor in whether or not a student is accepted for admission.

Carleton has been a “need-aware” school since an incident in 1993 in which the financial aid committee exceeded budget limits in order to meet the financial need of that year’s incoming class.

A new policy was then introduced, permitting a maximum of 15 percent of applicants to have financial need considered as a factor in admission.

Although this 15-percent cap has managed to contain financial aid spending within its budget, it has also affected the numbers of lower-income students who were admitted to Carleton.

Rod Oto, associate dean of admissions and director of student financial services, said, “What we’re finding out in recent years is because of that cap, we were tending to be need-sensitive for more of the low-income students.

“And we were doing that because they were holding more of the money. The low-income students are the high need students.

“If we’re meeting everybody’s need, they’re holding more of the Carleton dollars. To stay within our budget, those students tended to be more of the ones that we would consider need-sensitive because they had a higher cost, so in recent years we have not been happy with this cap.”

According to a report released by the administration in 2011, the cap “has constrained our ability to recruit and enroll our ideal class. Carleton must adopt a new and more sustainable policy.”

Interfaith Social Action (IFSA) is a social justice student group that is attempting to initiate a campus-wide discussion about economic diversity on campus and Carleton’s current need-sensitive admission policy.

“I think it’s a social justice issue that some people have a much easier time getting into Carleton — even just applying to Carleton — because they have the money,” said IFSA leader Meg Crenshaw ’17.

“That’s a big problem. And I think it’s hard to see on campus if you’re not constantly struggling with this issue and constantly up in front of this fact that there are a lot of people here who have a lot of money.

“So, I think a more accessible place would mean a place where people are more aware of class difference, so that people who have less money are not so burdened.”

IFSA is currently planning 45-minute to hour-long programs for students to participate in during study breaks.

“There are two sides,” Crenshaw said. “I think students can talk to the administration and say ‘I want this. This is a social justice issue that I think is important and that Carleton can do better on.’ That’s huge for the administration. But I think we also need to work on the campus climate.

“We need a climate where people feel comfortable. That can be created through dialogue and through very intentional learning and intentional reflection.”

IFSA’s goal is to reach 200 students face-to-face through dialogue by the end of winter term.

The realities of change, however, are not as simple as they appear. A need-blind admissions policy put into practice would require additional funds to make up for financial losses from accepting students with higher need.

“Initially, what people will say is we need more money,” Oto said. That’s the easy answer. If we had x millions of dollars more, we wouldn’t need to be need sensitive at all. I think having more money would be the quick fix.

“The real issue, given our costs and given where we are in the marketplace, is whether or not Carleton could continue being– consistently be–need-blind totally. I think that’s really the question to debate. Some people say yes, we can. But when you do the projections of what it would cost Carleton, it can be pretty staggering.”

Additional funds, if provided, would likely have to come from other areas of budget spending.

Currently, salaries for faculty and staff are the biggest budget item and financial aid is second. Increasing the budget allocation to financial aid could decrease allocations in other, similarly important, areas, such as salaries, according to Oto.

“Both salaries and financial aid get to the very heart of what we try to do at Carleton,” he said. “That’s why it’s so frustrating.”

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