A survey published last week revealed that many colleges nationwide are trying harder to recruit wealthier applicants.
The survey, conducted by the publication Inside Higher Ed, showed that 34.3 percent of four-year colleges are trying harder to recruit students who can pay the full price of attendance, and that 22 percent are paying more attention to “applicants’ ability to pay” when deciding who to admit.
Barnard economics professor Randall Reback, an expert in education policy, said he is not surprised by the survey’s findings, thanks to the national economic climate.
“A lot of schools of course were hit hard in terms of taking hits on their endowment, and at the same time a lot of students from middle class families who would normally be able to pay a certain amount, how much they need has gone up,” Reback said. “Given those two trends, this is not too surprising.”
Columbia wouldn’t say whether it participated in the survey, which was completed by admissions officers at 462 schools, including 14 schools with admission rates under 20 percent.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jessica Marinaccio said in a statement that Columbia is “fully committed” to its need-blind admissions policy.
“We are incredibly fortunate that Columbia has the financial resources that allow us to recruit and support students from all backgrounds, ensuring we continue to have one of the most diverse and vibrant campuses in the country,” Marinaccio said.
But Claudia Dreifus, a professor at the School of International and Public Affairs and a co-author of the book “Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It,” said that admissions offices in general lack transparency and that “there is definitely a big difference between what people say and what they do.”
“There’s a lot of evidence that admission has not been ‘need-blind,’ as frequently maintained by some admissions officers,” Dreifus said.
Dreifus emphasized that she was not referring specifically to Columbia, and that she is not overly familiar with how admissions works here. She said that the trend identified in the survey is one that she and Andrew Hacker, the co-author of her book, have “long suspected is the practice at many, many schools.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that schools are lying when they say that they are need-blind.
“They can look at their [applicants’] zip code, they can look at what high school they went to, and they can look at what sports they did,” she said. “If you can afford to go to Nicaragua, work with lepers, and then write an essay about it, it is clear you can afford to be ahead of the game.”
Not all admissions at Columbia are need-blind—the admissions process for international students is need-aware. Marinaccio said that although Columbia has a “significant international population,” this is not a result of “a desire to admit students based on their ability to pay, but on the University’s commitment to enrolling a truly global community.”
“A student’s ability to pay, even in our need-aware process for foreign students, is not a reason a student would be admitted through our holistic review process,” she said.
Reback said he thinks that colleges’ ability to deduce their applicants’ income, which Dreifus discussed, actually brings diversity to universities, because most universities are “need-affirmative.”
“If you have two applicants with similar test scores, similar quality grades or achievements, and one is from a less privileged background, well, they are actually going to give the advantage to the student from the less privileged background,” Reback said. But he added that those schools could stop favoring those students somewhat to save money.
“It’s more of a question of how much you do that,” he said. “How need-affirmative are you?”