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Counselors' Group Affirms 'Need Blind' Admissions

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The National Association of College Admission Counselors has voted to continue requiring its member colleges and universities to admit applicants regardless of financial need.

But the high school guidance counselors and college admission officers decided not to penalize institutions that violate the association's guidelines.

Instead, the members extended a moratorium on imposing sanctions, such as expelling an institution or restricting its voting priviliges, until December 1995.

The vote last month at the group's annual meeting in Chicago came shortly after it released a survey that found 530 of 584 colleges practice "need blind" admissions. This means they do not consider a student's financial need in admissions decisions before May 1, the common deadline for students to respond to offers of admission.

Mary Lee Hoganson, a counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School, said the counselors' group conducted the survey in part in response to news reports suggesting that fewer than 20 colleges in the United States practice need-blind admissions.

Ms. Hoganson said she hopes the findings will encourage more colleges to admit qualified students even if their need exceeds available aid. "The question is, whose decision should it be," she said.

Nevertheless, while most colleges may describe themselves as need-blind, two out of three colleges surveyed said they use "preferential packaging," and a similar percentage practice "gapping." Preferential packaging is a policy of offering better aid packages to more desirable candidates, and gapping is offering students less aid than they need.

About 20 percent of colleges use "admit/deny"--admitting students but not offering them any aid.

Gapping is not uncommon, according to Tony Cancola-Flores, the director of financial aid at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

"I'm always surprised how many colleges say 'we're need-blind' and then when [students] get their aid package there's this gap of $5,000 to $8,000," he said.

Although Brown University is not fully need-blind, students' financial circumstances are not a factor in 95 percent of admissions decisions. Need comes into play only when the university is trying to fill the last spaces in a freshman class.

"You can always admit people and let them make the choice as to whether they want to come or not," said Arthur Hauptman, a consultant on higher-education financing.

Mr. Hauptman said the reason not all schools do so is because they "are worried about their yield and how that will be perceived as a sign of quality. They don't want to have many people reject them, especially if it's because they didn't offer enough money."

Tuition Trends

Federal aid dollars represented 75 percent of all student aid last year, compared with 80 percent a decade ago, according to an annual report on student-aid trends released last week by the College Board. The share for institutional aid, the assistance provided directly by colleges, and other grants has increased from 14 percent to 19 percent, while state aid has remained at 6 percent.

The number of Pell Grant recipients fell from 4.2 million in the 1992-93 academic year to 3.7 million last year.

Borrowing in the Federal Family Education Loan program increased 42 percent between the 1992-93 and 1993-94 academic years, the College Board says.

The jump was likely spurred by changes in the Higher Education Amendments of 1992, which increased loan limits and introduced the unsubsidized Stafford loan.

"As a nation, we should look hard at the growing grant-loan imbalance and ask ourselves how much we can reasonably expect the poorest students to borrow," said Donald M. Stewart, the president of the College Board. "One of the purposes of a college education is to help people create a better future, not a deeply mortgaged future."

Some observers found hope in College Board findings that the rate of tuition increases has slowed. This fall, tuition increased about 6 percent at four-year public and private colleges, 5 percent at two-year private colleges, and 4 percent at two-year public colleges over last year. This contrasts with increases of 6 percent to 7 percent at private colleges and 13 percent to 14 percent at public colleges in 1991-92.

Free copies of the admissions counselors' survey are available from the N.A.C.A.C., 1631 Prince St., Alexandria, Va. 22314-2818; (703) 836-2222.

Copies of "Trends in Student Aid: 1984 to 1994" are available for $12.95 each prepaid from College Board Publications, Box 886, New York, N.Y., 10101-0886; (212) 713-8000. Specify the title and item number 236203.

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