Twenty Years Ago, Phillips Academy Flirted With Need-Blind Admission Policy, But Ran Short of Funds

This is not the first time Phillips Academy has decided to go need-blind. Andover was effectively need-blind from 1985 to 1989, though no policy required the school to cover all its admitted students’ financial needs and the initiative was not set in stone. Last week, Head of School Barbara Landis Chase announced that Andover will permanently go to a need-blind admission process next year. During the summer of 1988, the Faculty and Trustee Committee on Long-Range Planning affirmed that maintaining a multicultural student body open to students of all socioeconomic standings as one of the school’s top four priorities. However, according to a letter sent to the faculty by then-Acting Headmaster Peter Q. McKee, need-blind admission at Andover faced a “crisis” during March 1989. In McKee’s letter, he outlined three major factors that were responsible for the threat to the school’s financial aid policy. “The profile of our candidate pool has changed dramatically over the past several years. More and more of our very qualified students are coming from the ranks of those families who need financial aid,” McKee wrote. McKee, who passed away in 2005, also wrote that rapid inflation in the economy would require raised tuitions to cover increased salaries and financial aid expenditures, because the existing endowment income would not sufficiently cover the new expenses. “When tuition goes up, the amount of financial aid offered to each student must increase. Obviously, the financial aid budget increases,” McKee wrote. Finally, he wrote that the cost of transportation, books and other needs for financial aid students was increasing at a rate faster than inflation. Within the letter, McKee also announced that this growing “crisis” meant that the school would be unable to sustain its need-blind policy without additional support from other parts of the budget. After drawing up the preliminary budgets for the 1989-1990 fiscal year, then-Director of Financial Aid Clem Morell announced that Andover would need a financial aid budget of $4,750,000 to maintain its need-blind status. However, this amount was impossible for the school to reach given its $4 million financial aid budget, due to faculty and staff salary budget increases and money previously allotted for building repairs and renovations. Since then, the financial aid budget has increased to $12,810,000. McKee proposed a 10 percent increase in the financial aid budget to $4.4 million, which the Board of Trustees’ Finance Committee approved with the additional suggestion of paying for some of the construction costs independent from the operating budget. The Admissions Office decided to try going need-blind for U.S. students only, which cut financial aid for international students except for European students in the Kemper Scholars program. Although the financial budget was still $350,000 short of the predicted amount despite the increase, then-Dean of Admission Jeannie Dissette, who passed away in 2003, decided to attempt to stay need-blind within the insufficient budget. However, most admitted students of that year’s first round of admissions needed financial aid. A total of 170 students on aid were admitted, and only 120 students on aid were in the graduating senior class. In addition, the increase in tuition consequently raised the need of all students on aid. “Obviously, we had a problem,” McKee wrote. Andover considered having its admission officers revisit schools and retract the offer of need-blind admission, explaining that even the increase in the financial aid budget could not cover everyone’s financial needs. However, admissions officers felt that they had “put too much emphasis on the needs blind policy,” according to McKee’s letter. Then-Chief Financial Officer Neil Cullen and McKee analyzed the budget further, looking for a way to stay need-blind. They proposed a solution that would have required Andover to cut its building repair and restoration budget. Instead, then-Trustee and Chairman of the Finance Committee Rick Beinecke ’62 suggested that the Admissions Office should take $200,000 from the endowment as an off-budget expenditure. Then-President of the Board of Trustees Mel Chapin ’36 approved this proposal. While the additional funds allowed Andover to stay need-blind for the next year, they would only serve as a temporary solution. According to McKee’s letter, trying to sustain need-blind admission beyond Andover’s capability to do so would have created a school that was “anything but needs blind.” McKee wrote, “It is doubtful that we will be able to be needs blind next year and for some years to come.” Efforts to regain a need-blind admission process continued, as the Office of Academy Resources fundraised to increase scholarship funds in the endowment. In 1989, Trustees Dick Goodyear ’59 and John Macomber ’46 chaired a committee responsible for adding to Andover’s endowment. Every million dollars raised for the endowment guaranteed $60,000 for financial aid. Although Andover ceased to be need-blind after admitting students in 1989, it remained the leader in financial aid among its peer schools, McKee wrote. Andover allotted 33 percent of its tuition and fees to the financial aid budget, while all other schools spent at most 21 percent. Nancy Jeton, Special Assistant to the Head of School, said in an interview last week, “There have been periods when the school has briefly gone need-blind but hasn’t been able to sustain it. [In the past] I don’t believe the Trustees voted it to be a perpetual thing, just a goal on a short-term basis. What Trustees are now saying is they’re making a commitment to sustain in perpetuity and need-blind.” Chase said last week, “Need-blind is such a moving target because of the growing diversity of the pool.” She added that staying need-blind will require continuous efforts of aggressive fundraising and priority compromises in the budget. According to Chase, former Headmaster John Mason Kemper announced during the 1950’s that becoming need-blind was a goal for Andover. However, according to Jeton, the Board of Trustees never voted on Kemper’s initiative, which makes it unlikely that this was an official policy.