Additional reporting by Ben Horwitz ’17.
Last week at a public forum on Haverford’s finances, President Kim Benston announced the College may end its need-blind admissions policy in response to the ongoing operations deficits. The student body has not reacted favorably to this statement, expressing fears about a decrease in socioeconomic diversity and what such a change might suggest about the College’s commitment to its values.
Currently, the College’s admissions process is need-blind, which means that an applicant’s demonstrated financial need plays no role in the admissions decision. According to Jess Lord, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, admissions officers do not have access to the financial aid information of applicants under the current system, only the financial aid office does. “Fully need-blind” as a term is somewhat misleading, however, as it glosses over the fact that international applicants are already considered on a need-aware basis, as are transfer applicants some years.
Under a need-aware system, the financial aid budget would have a monetary cap. As applicants are admitted, money would be taken from the budget and applied towards their financial aid. When the cap is almost reached, the admissions department would begin to consider a student’s demonstrated need in its decisions. Lord estimates financial need would play a role in the last 5% of admissions decisions based on current budget projections. In any proposed changes, Haverford would continue to meet all demonstrated student need.
Although some students state they understand the College’s position and the potential financial necessity of such a switch, many feel that ending need-blind admissions runs counter to the College’s values, particularly its commitments to equity and diversity.
“[Need-aware] goes directly against what the college is about, and any Quaker values this institution theoretically aligns itself with,” said Andy Beck ‘17. “This wealthy, white school will become wealthier and whiter; we are to understand this as a necessity, which certainly makes a statement about who holds power in this institution, and what voices outside the power structure mean.”
Students also worried about the message the College would be sending about its priorities should it become need-aware. “To many applying, a need-blind college is one that won’t turn them away because of their money,” said Amy Zamora ‘18. “It is a college which will look at you for you. Your academics, your extra curriculars, and you as a person, not as just a source of money.”
According to Lord, Haverford would not end its commitment to socio-economic diversity. He notes that under the current system, admissions officers use markers such as an applicant’s high school or parents’ education as stand-ins for socioeconomic status to ensure Haverford has a diverse student body and would continue to do so should admissions become partially need-aware.
“If we have to make this change, it’s not going to change the mission and priorities of the institution,” said Lord. “It creates a limit to the way we’re able to act on the mission and values, but we’re not going to have new priorities for how we evaluate applicants.”
Lord noted that applicants considered under need-aware policies would not automatically be barred from receiving aid, but the amount of aid distributed would have to add up to the amount of money remaining in the financial aid budget. Programs like Questbridge that encourage low-income students to attend Haverford would also remain intact.
But students are concerned that the label “need-aware” would deter low-income applicants from even considering Haverford.
“I know if Haverford would not have been need-blind, I wouldn’t have applied out of the fear that I would not be able to afford the education,” said Zamora. “I would have been worried that the College would not be willing to help me in my financial situation, despite my qualifications for acceptance.”
Lord said that this is a fear for the admissions department as well. “Being need-blind is a quick and easy way for us to signal the values of our institution. We’ll lose that [widely understood] shorthand,” he said. “That is a real concern. It will require admissions to be sensitive to that. We’ll have to really think strategically and carefully about how we work to counteract that message.”
Other students voiced support for alternate plans. “I think that enrolling an extra  students a year for the next five years makes the most sense,” said Michaela Novakovic ‘17. “It helps ease the fiscal deficit in an immediate sense, but it also increases the alumni base, which will increase the number of alumni able to donate to Haverford in the future.”
A second public forum will be held Monday May 2 at 7 p.m. in the Bryn Mawr Room of the Dining Center.