Point-Counterpoint: Need Blind Admissions at Tufts

‘Point-Counterpoint’ juxtaposes two opposing perspectives on polarizing issues and debates. The following responses, written by the Daily’s opinion section, address both sides of the debate on need-blind admissions at private universities. 


The Case For Need-Blind Admissions

As a liberal university community, most Tufts students would agree that one’s family income and wealth should not be a determining factor in their ability to attend Tufts. Certainly, equity for students of lower socioeconomic status is a goal that Tufts strives for. The Tuition and Fees page on Tufts’ website declares, “Tufts University is proud to meet 100% of the full demonstrated need of all admitted students.” That goal is a virtuous one, but what about all the students who don’t make the cut? That is, how many students are barred admission from our university because of their inability to pay tuition?

For years, Tufts has maintained that the number is low. In April 2009, the Daily reported that the admissions office used need-blind review for almost 95 percent of applications, while taking into account financial need for the final 850 applicants when potential financial aid had run out. Essentially, the applicants who happened to be at the bottom of the pile were arbitrarily assessed by a different set of standards from the rest. Why should we force students from less wealthy backgrounds to be victims of circumstance? That last five percent of applicants faced a level of scrutiny that the other 95 did not.

But let’s set aside the “unfairness” argument, as this problem is apparent to almost anyone examining the issue. Two of the major arguments against need-blind admissions are that it is unfeasible and too costly. How legitimate are those claims? Sure, Tufts has a finite endowment that it is always trying to maximize through investment. But class size is not a fixed number. Were Tufts truly committed to socioeconomic equality, the admissions office would, in 2009 for example, have created more stringent requirements for admission, reducing class size by enough to make the process need-blind through and through. Certainly, changing class size drastically is potentially problematic for colleges, but if small decreases could increase economic parity in our university, that is a reasonable goal for Tufts admissions to consider.

One should also consider how need-blind admissions can be advantageous for the entire university, benefitting both the student community and Tufts’ reputation as an academic institution. First, need-blind policies create a true meritocracy in admissions, as those who gain admission are truly the most qualified candidates — not simply those who are willing and able to pay. This, in turn, means that the academic quality of the average student increases, not only engendering an improved intellectual environment, but also boosting Tufts’ academic reputation.

Beyond that, having non-need-blind admissions also has a potentially chilling effect on less wealthy students. Need-aware policies can deter economically disadvantaged individuals from applying in the first place, as students may fear that the institutions are unwelcoming to those of lower socioeconomic status, and that their rejection is a foregone conclusion. Finally, schools that have transitioned to need-blind admissions have found the policy to be an effective tool for bolstering ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic diversity, a goal Tufts also claims is at the forefront of its agenda.

If Tufts has to take relatively small steps to close the gap from 95 percent need-blind to 100 percent, the benefits would undoubtedly outweigh the costs. By taking a completely need-blind approach to admissions, we can create a more inclusive, more meritocratic and more diverse student body, something that we can all celebrate.


The Case Against Need-Blind Admissions

Need-blind admissions is an honorable goal, but ultimately an unrealistic one. Universities with finite endowments simply cannot afford to disregard students’ tuition-paying abilities while maintaining the financial stability and academic standards of their institution. The reality is that if Tufts does go need-blind, the university will face severe financial strains, potentially forcing admissions to account for applicants’ financial capabilities in more clandestine — and even discriminatory — ways.

To start, let’s examine the necessity of considering financial need with a hypothetical situation. First, imagine that Tufts completely disregards financial need during this year’s round of admissions, and within the applicant pool, 100 percent of students are unable to afford full tuition. When the Class of 2021 is announced, financial aid officers scramble, unable to provide grants to cover financial need for all students. Instead, those students are forced to take out loans, and Tufts’ endowment is spent mostly on financial aid rather than academic quality.

This example is hyperbolic, of course, but the idea still stands: going need-blind poses a great risk for our university’s finite budget. One may propose that we instead raise tuition for those who can afford to cover grants for less wealthy students, akin to price discrimination that some claim already occurs in colleges and drives up tuition. This proposal is not only cyclical — higher tuition means more people need aid, leading to even higher tuition — but it also generally has a chilling effect on all but the wealthiest of students. Tufts’ tuition is already one of the highest in the country, and raising it further would only deter more non-wealthy prospective students from applying.

It is clear that few adaptive options would be very appealing to the university should we switch to fully need-blind admissions; either the university is forced to give less aid to students as we take on more financial need than is built into the budget; spend more on aid and less on overall academic quality at Tufts; or raise tuition further to cover financial aid and protect academic spending.

Without a favorable option, admissions could be forced to resort to a “de facto” need-aware admissions policy, using non-financial measures to identify candidates that wouldn’t be as costly to admit. This could mean using “legacy” status as an approximation for wealth, which would give an unfair admissions advantage to white students, whom — based on Tufts’ demographic makeup — are far more likely to have legacy than students of color. SAT and AP scores, both of which correlate strongly with income, could be valued more strongly to the end of lowering costs. This also has the potential to impact racial and ethnic diversity, as students of color are far less likely to take AP exams, and less likely to score highly on the exams. And ultimately, because these approximations are just that — approximations — it means that more low income and minority students could be screened out by admissions, only worsening the problem at hand.

Diversity at Tufts is something we all want to strive for. But a need-blind admissions policy, at our current endowment level, is simply unsustainable. Unless students are willing to embrace tuition hikes, less academic funding or less financial aid for students, need-blind admissions has the potential to worsen discrimination towards students of lower socioeconomic status during the admissions process. Unfortunately, for the time being, completely need-blind admissions isn’t a feasible possibility at Tufts, where money is a valuable and limited resource.