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Wesleyan U. To Drop 'Aid-Blind' Admissions

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Wesleyan University, one of the nation's most prestigious--and expensive--private colleges, last week reversed a 15-year policy of admitting all qualified students without regard to their ability to meet their educational expenses and providing to those admitted all the financial aid they required.

The unanimous decision by the university's board of trustees, made in response to the proposed cuts in federal student aid, makes the Middletown, Conn., institution the first university to end officially what is known as an "aid-blind" admissions policy.

Educators said last week that Wesleyan's decision to reject some otherwise-admissible students because they cannot pay the costs of their education may be a signal that in the coming years only wealthy students will have the opportunity to attend the most selective private colleges.

According to an official of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (naicu), most of the nation's 900 private colleges do not consider financial need in deciding whether or not to admit a student, but they also do not promise a student who is admitted that they can provide all the aid the student may need.

These colleges award financial aid to admitted students on a limited and competitive basis, the spokesman said. That means the students who are accepted may be awarded none or only part of the aid they need to attend the institution.

Wesleyan, however, is one of a small number of well-endowed private colleges that admit students without regard to their financial needs and then give each student accepted as much aid as he or she needs. Under its new admissions policy, the university will only admit students whose needs can be met within a "capped" financial-aid budget, or who can pay their own way.

"If more private colleges change their aid-blind admissions policies, low-income students will no longer have the freedom of choice of going to a private college," said Virginia A. Hodgkinson of naicu

Annual tuition and fees average $3,700 at four-year private colleges, compared to $820 at four-year public schools, according to College Scholarship Service figures.

Robin D. Cody, dean of admissions at Reed College in Oregon, said that policies making financial need a decisive factor in college admissions, combined with sharp cuts in federal student aid, would make selective private colleges "more homogeneous."

"That means [selective private colleges will draw more of their] students from white, wealthy suburbs," he added.

The response to the Wesleyan decision at other leading private colleges was mixed.

James H. Rogers, director of admission at Brown University, predicted that more private colleges will modify their admissions policies to take ability to pay into consideration. "Within three or four years, it will be the rule rather than the exception," he said. "The handwriting is on the wall."

However, admissions officials at Stanford, Yale, Oberlin, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said they have no plans to consider students' ability to pay in making admissions decisions.

But officials at Yale and Oberlin did acknowledge that their schools may soon be forced to drop their policy of meeting fully the financial needs of all the students they accept.

"We are approaching the day very soon when we will not be able to afford an open-ended financial-aid budget," said Oberlin's admissions director, Carl W. Bewig. "The net result will be a negative effect on students at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale."

The financial aid problem is compounded by the fact that many private colleges are being forced to raise their tuition charges sharply to meet rising costs. Several of the most selective private colleges, including Stanford, Yale, Princeton, and Harvard, have already announced they will raise their tuitions by 10-to-15 percent for the 1982-83 school year. In most cases, this will mean costs to students of $11,000 to $12,000 for tuition and room and board.

Under Wesleyan's new admissions policy, which will begin with the 1982-83 school year, the university will first select a class of entering students exclusively on merit, said Bobby Wayne Clark, a spokesman for the college. If the amount of financial aid needed by these students exceeds Wesleyan's financial-aid-budget (which will be set at 10 percent of the university's general expenditures budget), students on the waiting list who do not need financial aid will be chosen instead of students at the bottom of the merit list who do need aid.

Mr. Clark estimated that under this plan the student's ability to pay for educational expenses (now $10,920 per year at Wesleyan) will be a decisive factor in the admission of 8 percent of Wesleyan's 650-student freshman class.

"This is not the pure form of aid-blind policy we have had in the past, nor is it the way we would like to do it," Mr. Clark said, "but with the projected cuts in federal student aid, we predicted we would have a $5-million deficit over the next five years if we did not change the policy."

Mr. Clark said the new policy will not effect Wesleyan's efforts to improve the racial diversity of its student body. "The only measure of diversity that will be lost is economic," he said.

The federal government provides 30 percent of the $4 million in scholarships that support about 40 percent of Wesleyan's 2,500 students this year. The university is spending $2.3 million of its own unrestricted general funds on scholarships.

Mr. Clark said a student-faculty committee calculated that if Wesleyan were to continue its policy of admitting students without regard to financial need and meeting the financial needs of all students admitted, by 1986 it would be spending 16 percent of its annual budget on scholarships.

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