Economy Strains Exeter Fin. Aid Budget

Due to economic pressures and a declining endowment, Exeter will not be able to support need-blind admissions for the upcoming school year. Exeter, unlike Andover, has never held an official policy of “need-blind admissions,” which allows a school to judge an applicant irrespective of his or her ability to pay tuition. For the past three years, however, Exeter has had enough financial aid funds to allow the Admissions Office to disregard applicants’ financial situations, making the school effectively need-blind. But because of the current economic recession, Exeter cannot support the demands of need-blind admissions for the 2009-2010 academic year, said Rick Mahoney, Director of Financial Aid at Exeter. “Exeter has been effectively need-blind for the past four years because the financial aid budget had enough money for us to do so,” said Mahoney. “In the last 15 months, our endowment has decreased by 15 to 20 percent,” he said. “The fact that we are not need-blind this year was decided by the circumstances.” Exeter’s shrunken endowment has constrained its financial aid budget. With this decision, Exeter was forced to consider an applicant’s income and ability to pay tuition for next year’s matriculating students. This change has resulted in the rejection of some applicants who would have merited acceptance had their financial situations not been considered. “It sounds crass, but you need to pull some financial aid kids in order to admit full-pay applicants,” said Mahoney. According to Mahoney, 28 to 30 percent of the students admitted to Exeter for the upcoming school year were admitted on financial aid. This percentage of the applicant pool translates roughly to 135 to 140 students. The percentage of students on financial aid has decreased significantly since last year, when Exeter supplied financial aid to more than 50 percent of admitted students. The continually increasing number of financial aid students over the past three years has also pushed Exeter to limit its ability to be need-blind. “We have more than 300 returning students on financial aid, which leaves a smaller amount of money available to new applicants,” said Mahoney. In fall 2007, Exeter announced a policy that would offer full financial aid to students whose family income totaled under $75,000. Exeter still maintains this policy. Andover has been able to maintain its official need-blind policy, in spite of market volatility and losses from the endowment. Jim Ventre, Director of Financial Aid at Andover, said that he does not expect Andover to rescind its need-blind policy. “At the moment, the plan is to continue to support need-blind admissions,” Ventre said. “The truth is, given who we are culturally, we’re different than any other schools in the country.” “The reason we were able to support need-blind, more than anything else, is our very strong full-pay constituency,” he continued. Andover’s 2004 Strategic Plan outlines increased financial aid of about $1 million each year as the number of applicants increase, said Ventre. “The financial aid budget receives increasing financial aid according to a methodical and consistent planned approach,” he continued. In planning for each year’s financial aid budget, the Financial Aid Office also makes provisions for changes in tuition costs. According to Ventre, the Financial Aid Office was able to accurately estimate the type of budget required to stay need-blind by estimating how many applicants would request financial aid. He said, “Historical research of the most competitive financial aid students in the applicant pool provides basis for predictable success in admission decisions.” “Part of our planning is to predict what our applicant pool will look like and who will be admitted,” he added. This year, 61 percent of Andover applicants requested financial aid information, according to Ventre. Under need-blind, 44 percent of the admitted students at Andover will be on financial aid. This percentage is larger than last year’s, in which 55 percent of applicants requested financial aid and 42 percent of the admitted students were on financial aid. Currently, 12 percent of admitted students receive full scholarships. Ventre predicts that the numbers of students requesting financial aid will continue to grow. “If the economy does not improve, we do expect the perception of need for financial aid to continue,” he said. Ventre said that Andover’s need-blind admissions policy has increased the diversity of the student body, as outlined in the Strategic Plan. “Need-blind is an appealing philosophy because it provides access and it stimulates all applicants to believe that they have the same chance of admission,” said Ventre. “The initiative has increased all academic indices and increased racial, ethnic and geographic diversity.”