George Washington University, one of the most expensive colleges in the country, represented that it did not consider prospective students' ability to pay in its admissions policies while effectively rejecting poorer students in favor of richer ones, according to Jeremy Diamond at the GW Hatchet, the university's student newspaper.
Diamond reported that while the school's admissions policy does not initially consider income in sorting its admissions, "students who meet GW's admissions standards, but are not among the top applicants, can shift from 'admitted' to 'waitlisted' if they need more financial support from GW." Less than 1 percent of students on GW's waitlist in 2012 were subsequently admitted for admission.
But the school has been touting itself as "need-blind" as recently as this week, Diamond said. "And until it was removed Saturday evening, the undergraduate admissions website read, 'Requests for financial aid do not affect admissions decisions.' That webpage now explains GW's 'need-aware' policy."
“It's misleading," Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and economics professor at Ohio University, told Diamond. "Need-blind would mean, 'We don't pay a bit of attention to financial considerations in making admissions decisions,' and GW clearly does."
A response from the university said that there was no change in admissions policy, but that the school was trying to "increase the transparency of the admissions process."
"(T)he phrase 'need-aware' better represents the totality of our practices than the phrase 'need-blind,' " read the statement. "Some admissions professionals use the phrase 'read need-blind' to describe a process like ours where the admissions committees do not have access to the amount of need of an applicant. ... Our need-aware admissions policy enables the university to provide more attractive aid packages for students with financial need while staying within our aid budget."
This is not the first time the school's admissions practices have come under scrutiny. According to Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed, "The admission by GW that it was falsely claiming to be need-blind comes less than a year after the university acknowledged that it had been reporting incorrect admissions data on its website and to U.S. News & World Report for use in rankings."
As college costs have escalated in recent years, the disparity in affordability and financial aid for rich and poor students has been increasingly scrutinized. Earlier this year, Celia Baker at the Deseret News reported on a study from the New America Foundation that found that colleges and universities are taking federal money intended for low-income students and effectively transferring it into aid for richer students.
"Like a carnival conman duping an earnest mark, colleges are using Pell grants to take the place of institutional aid they would have given to needy students, then shifting those funds toward recruiting wealthy ones through 'merit aid,' " wrote Baker. "So, even after historic increases in Pell grant funding, the college attendance gap between rich kids and poor kids is as wide as ever, the report said."