The Colgate Scene
March 2001
Table of contents
Planning Committee Report

Planning Committee Report Contents:
  1. Innovation
  2. Smaller classes
  3. Aid
  4. Environment
  5. Financing the goals of planning
III. Aid

Talented students are essential to achieving the goal proposed in this report. Colgate cannot be a great educational institution on the strength of faculty, programs and facilities alone, because much of what students learn in college they learn from each other -- whether formally, in class discussions and group projects, or informally in dormitory discussions, dining hall debates and the interactions that are part of all extracurricular activities. Research confirms that learning is a social, collaborative act. Hence Colgate's plan for advancement must recognize that the students' academic abilities and capacity to learn from each other are a key educational asset of the college, no less important than faculty, programs and facilities.

In a sense, all improvements of the college, from new programs to new facilities to a lower student-faculty ratio, constitute tools for recruiting good students. But one of the most important is financial aid. Our plans for the next decade must address the need for more financial aid for the best students in the applicant pool.

Financial aid at Colgate has long been seen as an effective tool for attracting the applicants we desire and yielding the best applicants from the pool. Accordingly, segments of the financial aid allocation have been targeted to achieve important institutional priorities including the strongest yield on the very best academic students; a true sense of economic, racial and geographic diversity; and maintaining commitment to Division I athletics. The proposals developed in this planning process do not change those fundamental commitments, but rather target incremental resources to enhance the academic profile of the student body.

The committee's emerging ideas on the use of aid to enhance the academic profile received support in the regular budget process for 1999-2000. Growth in endowment and gift support enabled the college to expand and enhance the Alumni Memorial Scholars program, increasing the yield among these top applicants. Another part of the effort was the decision to target more aid for very strong international students, and that, too, has enhanced the academic profile and diversity of the entering class. Finally, a new approach to the combination of grant, loan and campus job was developed for students of high quality and relatively low financial need, and that has also been successful at increasing yield and the academic profile of the class.

But more remains to be done. One issue is that Colgate currently runs out of financial aid before it runs out of applicants it would like to enroll, as determined by ability to contribute to and gain from Colgate. Hence for some applicants, inability to pay the full amount of tuition, room and board is a disadvantage in the admissions process. In the language of the admissions office, Colgate now has no choice but to be somewhat "need conscious" rather than "need blind" in considering applicants for admission. Colgate's current need consciousness limits its ability to enroll the strongest possible student body, and as explained above, it therefore reduces the educational effectiveness of the university.

Most of the very best liberal arts colleges and private universities in the United States make their admissions decisions without regard to applicants' ability to pay and then meet the full need of matriculated students for four years with aid packages composed of varying amounts of grant aid, loans and work. These institutions are "need blind" in admissions, reaping the benefits in student profile and educational effectiveness. Colgate should find the resources to be need blind, too.

To appreciate the case fully, one must understand that much of the recruiting impact of being need blind occurs by way of public perceptions. Announcing a policy of need blindness would signal to needy and non-needy prospects alike that Colgate has placed new priority on providing them with academically strong peers. It would do so much more clearly than announcing "enhanced financial aid," sending a new and important message about the value that Colgate places on equality of opportunity. Second, the announcement could and should be designed to associate Colgate in the public mind with the distinguished institutions that are need blind already. Finally, the initially modest improvements in academic profile that would stem from this initiative can be expected to compound, because an ever-stronger academic profile will tend to attract still stronger applicants over time. These perceptual factors suggest that for an institution like Colgate, whose aid programs are almost rich enough to let it advertise itself as need blind already, securing the extra resources that are needed to get over the finish line should be a high priority.

It is prudent to ask whether an announced policy of need-blind admission would inundate Colgate with needy applicants who could not then be refused admission. Would Colgate be impoverished by its noble promise? One part of the answer is that it is possible to pull back from a policy of totally need-blind admission without inordinate difficulty if it proves too expensive, unlike debt-financed capital projects, for instance. Indeed at least one elite college openly makes its public commitments to need-blind admission conditional on resources without embarrassment, and there are various ways Colgate could do the same. Another response to the worry about being inundated with needy students is that the experience of other need-blind institutions is consistent with a very different result. Some of these schools actually enroll a smaller proportion of needy students than Colgate, in part due to other attractions, but surely in part the result of the attractiveness to all prospects of these institutions' focus on ability rather than ability to pay. While no scientific analysis can guarantee this in advance, it is reasonable to hope that the longer-term effect of the policy will be to improve the applicant pool. The committee believes that putting the policy into place on a trial basis is therefore advisable. One approach would be to understand internally that the policy would be in force for a finite period, perhaps for three or four classes, which is to say six or seven years in total, to allow for an evaluation of its effects on academic profile.

Second, there is the question of the best approach to implementation. Given that the Planning Committee's mission, as endorsed by the board last summer, is the improvement of Colgate as an academic institution, we assume that the first objective should be to achieve need-blind admission with respect to the strongest applicants in the pool. In practical terms this means the elimination of "admit-deny" status, whereby an offer of admission -- but no offer of financial aid -- is extended to a needy applicant. Likewise it means the elimination of the practice of placing otherwise strong candidates on the wait list simply because financial aid has been exhausted. While, at additional cost, the policy might be extended to recruited athletes, the Planning Committee places the highest priority on becoming need blind for the strongest applicants because this strategy promises to yield the biggest gains in academic profile.

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