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ISSUE 117 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/14/2003

Need-blind aid reconsidered

By Stephanie Soucheray
Staff Writer

Friday, November 14, 2003

St. Olaf’s need-blind admissions policy may move to a need-sensitive one as soon as next year. Although the change will have no effect on currently enrolled St. Olaf students, the change may seriously alter the face of St. Olaf’s application and admissions process in the coming years.

"The driving factor of a possible rapid switch is the current budget crisis," said Director of Admissions Jeff McLaughlin. "It’s very expensive to be need-blind and give full financial aid to students. Some change must be made."

The current budget deficit has forced St. Olaf to look at ways to increase revenue or cut costs in all areas of school spending. Right now, the St. Olaf admissions process is need-blind, meaning that the school admits its top applicants regardless of their ability to pay tuition. The college guarantees full financial aid to those who need it.

A move to a need-sensitive admissions process would mean that approximately the top 90 percent of applicants will be admitted need-blind, and the other 10 percent of admitted applicants will have their ability to pay looked at as one of the factors for their admission. "It is not meant to be extreme," said Kathy Ruby, director of financial aid.

Even with a need-sensitive policy, St. Olaf will still promise to meet the full financial aid of all students. "We are committed to meeting full demonstrated need," said Ruby.

"St. Olaf could take two roads in the admission process," said McLaughlin. "We could either be need-blind and not be able to meet the financial aid needs of our students, or we could do what Carleton did a number of years ago and be need-sensitive with the ability to meet the financial aid needs of the student body."

Over the past 18 months, a need to consider this change more seriously has come up as a result of the budget crisis. Need-sensitive admissions "is a mechanism to control the financial aid budget," said Ruby.

"A possible switch to need-sensitive admission had been looked at for quite some time now," said Barb Lundberg, vice-president and dean of enrollment.

"We need to develop the most appropriate and sensitive way to make a move in our admissions policy," said Lundberg. "We have a commitment that St. Olaf makes to students concerning financial aid, and if we continue being a need-blind school, we may not be able to make that commitment in the future."

The Offices of Financial Aid and Admissions will also work together to find the best solution to the need-blind situation.

"It’s the Board of Regents’ decision to switch the admissions process: the admissions and financial aid departments can only implement the change," said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin and others met with the Board the first week of October, but no decisions have been made to implement this shift for the incoming class of 2008. However, he said that it seems likely that the shift will be made in the next few years.

Both Lundberg and Mc-Laughlin understand the concerns that arise from students and faculty alike when "need-sensitive admissions" is mentioned.

Lundberg and McLaughlin believe that the way to ensure such an evolution does not occur is to aggressively seek out a broader application base from which to pull students for admission. This broader base will in turn help to raise diversity levels as St. Olaf as a larger pool of students are considered.

"A huge value at St. Olaf is diversity, and President Thomforde does not want to see that lost because of any sort of budget problem," said Mc-Laughlin. "Part of our strategy in becoming need-sensitive is, for the first time in many years, actively seeking out qualified applicants who would diversify St. Olaf students globally, spiritually, and in ethnicity."

"If we could increase our application base we could have more diverse options in choosing our accepted applicants," said Lundberg. "This means a stronger community and a broader student body. All students who are accepted to St. Olaf will continue to be well prepared academically, and will want to thrive on the challenges here."

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