Phillips Academy has adopted a need-blind admission policy for the 2008-09 academic year. The Admissions Office will make acceptances without regard to applicants’ financial backgrounds and will meet all financial need of its accepted students. In an exclusive to The Phillipian, Head of School Barbara Landis Chase said that the school will meet this goal, set out in Andover’s 2004 Strategic Plan, years ahead of schedule. “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the only thing to do,” Chase said. The decision comes as a result of Chase’s conversations with alumni and parents and after recent financial aid budget increases at peer schools like Phillips Exeter Academy and the Groton School. Nearly all members of the Board of Trustees participated in a conference call with Chase on Friday, November 16, when the final decision was made to make Andover need-blind. All those present on the call voted to go need-blind for the upcoming year after a thorough discussion, said Oscar L. Tang ’56, the President of the Board of Trustees. Discussion with other trustees and with potential benefactors of Andover’s ongoing capital campaign prompted this vote, said Peter Ramsey, Secretary of the Academy. “We looked officially at our financial model and our fundraising model” to see if Andover could support the change ahead of schedule, Ramsey said. Members of the Senior Administrative Council (SAC), officials from the Admissions Office, Director of Financial Aid James Ventre and Chief Financial Officer Stephen Carter met prior to the conference call to discuss whether a need-blind policy would be feasible for next year given the school’s financial models. Chase said, “Given people’s schedules and my travel schedule and people leaving for break, I decided the week before Thanksgiving break that the time was now.” Chase announced the news to faculty on Saturday, November 17, but asked them to withhold releasing it until today, when a letter will be sent to the entire Andover community and a news release posted on Andover’s website. Ramsey said that Chase’s leadership as Head of School was necessary for the “quality, clarity and timing with which we reached this decision.” “We’re not going to make a big deal about it,” Chase said. Ramsey said, “It’s our business. We don’t want to engage in a game of one-upsmanship [with other schools in the media].” Jane Fried, Dean of Admission, who was traveling with Director of Financial Aid James Ventre in California this week, wrote in an email, “We have a long history of leadership in financial aid and, hence, attract a talented and socioeconomically diverse applicant pool.” “Consequently, becoming need-blind in admission is the most important step Andover can take to enhance the quality of the student body and the accessibility of an Andover education,” she wrote. Ramsey said, “Mrs. Chase and I have been traveling a good bit this fall and we’ve had good reactions to the strategic plan and need-blind admission. Our constituencies may find this announcement a bit of a surprise, but they’ll support it strongly.” Why Now? According to Special Assistant to the Head of School Nancy Jeton and Ramsey, several major factors are responsible for the acceleration of Andover’s timetable for going need-blind. In interviews with The Phillipian earlier this year, Tang said that it would take two or three years before Andover became need-blind. Chase said that it might take as many as five years before the school could reach that goal. “When Mrs. Chase heard about Exeter’s initiative [to provide full scholarship to students whose families make less than $75,000 per year], and that Groton was considering doing the same thing, it really made her think about what Andover was doing,” Jeton said. According to Ramsey, he, Chase, and several trustees were informally meeting on the West Coast when they read about Exeter’s decision in a national newspaper and heard that another school, later found out to be Groton, would implement the same policy. However, competition with both peer schools was not the only factor, both Chase and Ramsey said. Another influence prompting the new timetable was Chase’s participation in the “dialogue dinners” with alumni, parents and others with Andover connections, Jeton said. Chase has planned 25 such dinners around the country this year to spur interest in and raise money for the capital campaign. Chase said, “Every place I’ve gone, I’ve heard enthusiasm and pride in what we’ve been able to do in the past in terms of financial aid and socioeconomic diversity, and complete support for doing whatever it takes in terms of fundraising to go need-blind.” Administrative meetings after the informal meeting with trustees served to determine the financial feasibility of moving the plan forward. “We looked at it and thought about it financially and decided that we could move towards it as of September of next year,” Ramsey said. He added, “We’re anticipating doing well in fundraising and the endowment has held up relatively well this fall after a great year last year.” Why Improve Financial Aid? In Andover’s 2004 Strategic Plan, the school planned a need-blind admissions policy as a major component of its primary goal, increasing the diversity of the student body. The Strategic Plan urges the school to “identify the cost and raise the financial resources, both in endowment and operating funds, necessary to enable the school to admit students without regard to financial need.” Fried wrote, “[It] set a need-blind admission policy as a goal and the school has now made that goal a reality.” One goal, aggressively pursued by Chase and Fried, has been reducing the “pull” from each class of admitted students. After the admissions committee chooses the applicants it wants to admit, the current financial aid policy requires Andover to remove would-be admits whose needs cannot be met and replace them with those who can pay. According to Fried, Andover had to pull 14 students last year, down from approximately 20 each of the two years prior. The 14 students pulled would have cost the school an additional $410,500 in financial aid funding, said Ventre. Chase said that Andover has been moving aggressively toward sweeping improvements to the financial aid budget since the 2004 adoption of the Strategic Plan. Since then, the financial aid budget has been increased by 42 percent. The value of an average financial aid grant has increased, as has the percentage of students receiving aid. “This has been a progression and a real commitment from us and the board,” Chase said. Andover agreed to remove all loans from financial aid packages in 2007, and every student on full scholarship now receives a free laptop computer. Tang said that increasing financial aid was important for maintaining Andover’s ability to create the most capable applicant pool. “Already, by a significant margin, we have the widest pool of student applicants to chose from,” he said. Tang added, “Of the ones that we choose to admit, we have a dramatically higher yield rate as compared to Exeter and significantly higher than St. Paul’s. We already have the most diverse and the most capable group of applicants of any of these schools.” Chase said that the diverse applicant pool came due to a recent increase in her travel and that of the Admissions Office. “We want a huge pool to choose from, and travel is how we do our aggressive searching for the broadest possible spectrum,” Chase said. According to Jeton, faculty input also provided overwhelming support for increasing diversity. A recent survey suggested that nearly 32 percent of faculty suggested that admission recruitment should prioritize socioeconomic diversity, the greatest amount of support garnered by any one category in the poll. Chase said that financial aid was rightfully a top priority of hers. “We could have built new buildings, like a free-standing student center, which some of you wanted,” Chase said. “We said no, because the most important thing to us is faculty and students. We’ve made choices and we’ll continue to make choices.” Why Not an Income Threshold? Although Groton, St. Paul’s and Exeter all increased their financial aid budgets through recent initiatives, Andover will be the only one that is truly need-blind. St. Paul’s School, which had been need-blind in the mid-1990’s, announced in November 2006 that attendance would be tuition-free for families with a yearly income under $65,000. On November 7, Phillips Exeter Academy announced that it would be tuition-free for students whose families have yearly incomes under $75,000. Groton said that it would adopt the same style plan on November 15. Exeter has also been effectively need-blind for the past two years, meaning that 100 percent of the admitted students’ need was met. However, a need-blind admission policy was not officially a component of their financial aid announcement. Andover officials said that they are convinced that a need-blind system is the proper choice for the school, rather than an income “threshold,” like the other schools’. “While other schools may feel that setting a specific income range for ‘free tuition’ is appropriate for them, sometimes simple messages make things more complicated,” Fried wrote. “We do not want to send the unintended message that full support is limited to a specific income range.” Both Jeton and Fried also addressed the problems associated with choosing only one statistic upon which the scholarship grant is based. According to Jeton, a family could be living comfortably off a trust fund, while still legally reporting an income under a threshold like $75,000. “Setting a threshold isn’t fluid and it’s artificial. It doesn’t really meet the needs [of the students], but it’s great for P.R.,” she said. Tang said, “It’s much better to have a need-blind system, irrespective of income. We don’t need an artificial label to hang our message on.” Both Tang and Chase cited a potential situation in which a student’s family could be earning above the threshold, but had other large bills to pay, such as college tuition. Andover determines a financial aid offer to students through a “needs analysis,” Fried wrote. According to Fried, factors in the needs analysis include but are not limited to income, assets, number of children, education and medical expenses, and cost of living. Chase said that she did not want to disparage other ways of providing aid, but she thought that it was clear that a need-blind system was right for Andover. According to Fried, Jeton and Tang, Andover’s admission circumstances are different than those of its peer schools. “We have the largest applicant pool of any of our peers – we received over 500 more applications than our closest peer school [Exeter] last year, and draw applications across all socioeconomic groups,” Fried wrote. Jeton said, “At Andover, the situation is different – we have the biggest applicant pool. Fifty percent of students who applied here needed financial aid. Exeter has a smaller applicant pool, but not as many qualified kids trying to apply. They’re already looking here.” Tang said, “We’re not like Exeter and St. Paul’s, and Groton isn’t really even a peer school.” He said that the greatest difference between Andover and other schools was the diversity of its student body and also of its applicant pool. Ramsey said, “We like to be the leader, but we’re delighted that the other schools have caught up to us in financial aid. The world needs it.” How Can Andover Afford This? Although the goal of becoming need-blind was outlined three years ago, Andover will still require additional funds to adopt this new initiative. Part of these funds will come from Andover’s still-untitled ongoing capital campaign, which could set a new prep school record for fundraising. “We’re very happy about where we are,” said Ramsey. “We needed a big year this year to keep pace, and we’re quite pleased.” According to Jeton, the capital campaign has already raised $12 million, 20 percent of the $60 million devoted to financial aid in the current campaign allocation model. Ramsey said that in the original model for the capital campaign, only $50 million would go to financial aid, but that the acceleration of a need-blind policy meant that $60 million would go toward that part of the budget. “We wanted to make sure that this would not require any abnormal adjustment to tuition,” Ramsey said. “We’ve had a very successful track record in raising money for financial aid and we have multiple ways of doing this,” Chase said. Chase said that the financial aid budget currently receives extensive support from both endowed and term scholarship funds. Endowed scholarship funds, which are often in the donor’s name, pay for a student to attend the school each year. The donor receives the student’s name, as the student does the donor’s. Term scholarship funds are similar to endowed scholarship funds, except that term scholarship funds are intended to last for a specified period with a minimum contribution of $25,000 per year over three years. According to Ramsey, the school expects to have $1-2 million every year from term scholarships as the admissions office transitions to a need-blind process. Chase said, “We have donors who are really enthusiastic about this.” Tang suggested that the announcement of the initiative might spur others into contribution to help Andover’s financial aid goals. “If you talk about it, but never really do it, your audience might not be as enthusiastic,” he said. Chase said, “It’s a daunting challenge, and to be true to that requires constant vigilance and constant work.”