Need-Blind at Colgate Unlikely to Return

Interim President of the University Lyle Roelofs mailed the 2010-11 Budget Letter to the Colgate community on March 31, updating students, faculty and staff on what he called the “new normal” in college finances.

“A challenging domestic economy and a smaller pool of high school students, combined with the high cost of attending college, will require us to continue to carefully examine priorities and spend wisely,” Roelofs wrote. “In the coming years, we may no longer be able to add programs, faculty or staff without curtailing expenses in other areas.”

Significantly, one aspect of Colgate life that is expanding is financial aid.

“Colgate offered more dollars for financial aid awards to incoming students this year than in any other year,” Vice President and Dean of Admission Gary Ross wrote in a letter accompanying the Class of 2013 profile.

In October, Economic Environment Working Group Co-Chair and Vice President for Finance and Administration David Hale insisted that financial aid would not be affected in the group’s efforts to restructure the budget that the Board of Trustees approved at the end of March.

“We are still working to get 40% of an incoming class receiving financial aid,” Hale said in October. “We also recognize that more families might need financial aid, so we augmented our financial aid budget. Colgate is not need-blind, but once a student is enrolled, we are absolutely committed to meeting their needs. This has been a principle tenet around which we have worked.”

Although Colgate is working to improve access for students with demonstrated financial needs, the Office of Admissions turns away dozens of highly qualified students every year because it cannot provide the financial aid packages they require.

One senior female receiving financial aid, who wished to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, said she is grateful that her package made it possible for her to attend Colgate, but she would like to see the University do more.

“Need-blind admission would be a such positive thing for Colgate if we were ever financially able,” she said. “The fact is, we need a certain number of full-paying students as an important consideration for the stability of the University, and that means we’re probably missing out on a lot of other great people who could attend this school.”

Among applicants for the Class of 2009, those who were denied admission based on financial need had an average unweighted GPA of 4.0 and an average SAT score of 1420, according to the Passion for the Climb Financial Aid Case Statement.

While Colgate is adjusting to the “new normal” that Roelofs described, Hamilton College announced on March 9 that it would no longer consider applicants’ financial need in admissions decisions. The college’s 2009 Strategic Plan emphasized need-blind admission as a “long-term goal,” but the Board of Trustees decided in their December 2009 meeting that Hamilton was in the position to implement the policy starting with the Class of 2014.

“The thing to remember about Hamilton is that they essentially have the same endowment Colgate has, and they’re about 1,000 students less,” Hale said in an interview with the Maroon-News. “So their endowment per student is greater than Colgate’s by about $70,000. And that gives them a level of financial flexibility that we simply don’t have.”

Vice President for Institutional Advancement Murray Decock does not believe that Hamilton’s need-blind policy will impact Colgate admissions.

“It’s interesting that they’ve declared themselves need-blind,” Decock said, “but I have always felt that the only thing we have in common is the twenty miles that separates us.”

Decock emphasized that Colgate is committed to maintaining some of its strongest programs, such as the Global Leaders Lecture Series. Hamilton cancelled its Sacerdote Great Names Series this year because it did not have the endowment funding to bring new speakers to campus.

While Hamilton’s decision to implement a need-blind policy is an important step, it comes during a time when some already need-blind colleges are withdrawing their policies. In February, Williams College announced that it would end need-blind admission for the Class of 2014 due to its changed financial situation.

“Colleges have to be very careful that they can sustain this kind of commitment,” Decock said. “I think to back down from [a need-blind policy] projects a sense of weakness that can have a very negative counter-effect in the years to come.”

Colgate has explored the possibility of implementing a need-blind policy.

“After really looking at the costs and benefits of going need-blind, we decided to try it for a year, and see how it went and evaluate its costs and its impact,” said Hale.

Colgate admitted the Class of 2006 on a need-blind basis, yielding an additional annual cost of $1.5 million. Hale made a rough estimate that the Class of 2014 would cost $2-2.5 million more if it were to be admitted under a need-blind policy.

“So you’re looking at $8-10 million incremental spending in the budget if it’s rolled-out over four classes,” he said. “That seems like a very steep mountain for Colgate to climb financially.”

Ross highlighted that Colgate donors are especially committed to financial aid giving.

“One of the things that [I am] really proud of as a Colgate graduate is that for each capital campaign that’s existed, right up through the Passion for the Climb, the part of the campaign that’s been carved out for financial aid has been each time oversubscribed,” Ross said. “There have been more dollars coming in than Colgate was seeking.”

The Passion for the Climb Campaign, which began in March 2007, set a priority to raise $87.5 million for financial aid and access. Decock is optimistic that, with two years to go until the end of the campaign, Colgate can increase this goal to $100-120 million.

“We will likely increase our goal in steps along the way,” Ross said. “What would $100 million allow us to do? How many more offers would Admissions be able to make to financial aid candidates? Donors want to know the impact they’re making with their contributions, and how many students’ stars they’re helping to change.”

Interim President Roelofs emphasized in an interview this week that Colgate is constantly evaluating financial aid opportunities.

“The fact that we are not yet able to say we can go need blind shouldn’t distract us from the fact that we are able to aid a larger portion of every incoming class,” Roelofs said.

“We’re moving in the right direction even if we are not where we hope to be at this point.”