We’re at the Town Hall event in Upper Sherman. Taking quick notes, for your enjoyment.

Mark Spencer is introducing himself.

The reasons for the change – for the last few years, Brandeis has been gapping students. That means that it hasn’t had enough money to fulfill the full need of admitted students.

Andrew Giumette:

We’ve been here for 16 years, we keep changing our polices. We compete with schools where their full financial aid budget comes from the endowment. We can’t do that. So we have to be creative with our finances. Lately we’ve been operating by not meeting the full need of students. 2 years ago we fulfilled 80-something percent of need of students, for example.

“I’ve seen too many families and students in stress, taking out more loans than they have to”

Now they are taking questions.

Alex Melman: I support this change. One question – once we hit that cutoff point, why not just give them no financial aid and say “look, we have no more financial aid money, you can come in, but we just can’t give you any aid”.

Answer: We haven’t made a decision yet. Giumette: I was at a different college that did something like this. It was really tough and hurtful.

Alex Melman: “So the essential point of the change is to meet the full need of a smaller number of people, instead of not-full need for a larger number of people?”

Spencer: “Well, we’ll be hitting a larger number of people with full aid.” Look, there’s always going to be super-talented kids across the board. There will always be tradeoffs. Financial aid is one of those things.

Nathan Koskella: So you made the decision that getting to 100% of need was more important than

Giumette: Well, we noticed that of the people we gave need-based aid, less people who we accepted decided to come to Brandeis lately. We’re becoming less competitive with our need-based aid. Even if we could accept everyone with full need, our competitors will still be doing better than us.

Question: Brandeis costs a lot. Is there a plan to change that?

Giumette: Our budget is tied to tuition revenue. So as tuition increases, so does our need budget. Is it enough? It varies from year to year. Our plan is still to keep meeting 100% of need.

Question: I want to look at the change in admission policy for a sec, not just the aid policy. It’s got to be a real rhetorical problem for the University to say “we had a need-blind admissions policy, but now we’re not”. Did you consider how it would hurt admissions to drop our need-blind policy?

Spencer: This is a financial aid policy that affect admissions. There are college admissions counselors who say “we need to pay 100% of need”. There are a ton of talented students who can’t come here because we don’t meet need.
Giumette Hey, we haven’t been need-blind for international students and waitlists for a while.
Hillel Buechler: It was my impression that need-aware meant thinking about need due to Fafsa forms, and need-sensitive meant estimating based on demographics.

Spencer: The terms aren’t standardized. We’re using our terms in one way, other colleges use another.

Heddy: 70% of students are on financial aid. How much will that number go down?

Giumette: Well 55% of students are on need-based aid. Also, we won’t know till the class is in.

Spencer: Doesn’t think that the number will change.

Heddy: How will it affect merit-based scholarship? Also, how will it affect the campus environment? Will we become a school which feels the divide between students who are and students who are not on financial aid?

Giumette: In regards to merit scholarship, we feel we have to limit merit scholarships, unless its been supported through development, we won’t offer merit scholarships at all. Big change.

Giumette: On the subject of social justice, new policy will be more in line with it. Going forward, there will still be a small number, reserved for needy students.

Heddy: How many students have we recruited that won’t get one in the future. How many students are currently on merit scholarships?

Giumette: Very few, maybe one Presidential scholarship. We’ve been moving in this direction for a few years.

Heddy: What about the implications beyond whom you’re accepting, social environment, etc.

Spencer: I’ve only been here for six weeks, but I don’t know that it will change it. One of the hallmarks of Brandeis is that its a community that does things like this town hall. I don’t think the community is separatist, it’s one which likes to discuss diversity. People will want to apply regardless of the changes because there will still be those who desire Brandeis and its values.

Giumette: Some schools might experience those sentiments because the percentage on aid is less. We will always be at least at 50%.

Daniel Acheampong: How do you see this leveling out for Brandeis on the playing field against competitor schools?

Spencer: It will work out for us, because other schools are meeting 100% of need. This is true of other competitive schools, as they are also redefining aid. I see this as making us much more competitive. We should get more top students from this. Even though those other schools are need blind.

Audience Member: I’m OK with paying more so that our profiles in US and World News improve, even though it means that I take a scholarship cut. The reason we’re getting kids is because of merit scholarships.

Spencer: Those merit kids will still go to Harvard.

Audience Member: Because they’re smarter.

Spencer: I disagree. This should be about making the school affordable for families and students.

Sahar: Is it the case that we now have a pool for financial and a pool for need based aid?

Giumette: Moving on, we’ll have one pool. Because there will be no merit, the pool of money will increase.

Spencer: There are still some merit awards, specifically endowed.

Giumette: Yes, and we’ll still grant those.

Sahar: So the percentage will tilt toward need based aid. Is there another way to do this? What are the alternatives and other plans to maintain the status quo?

Giumette: Theoretically, with this plan, in the future we’ll be able to bounce back to need blind aid.

Spencer: I can’t speak to other plans, by the time I got here this was the plan. But it makes sense based on my past experiences, and based on where we are with our endowment, and all the other places that tuition comes from. The packages have changed over the last 3-4 years in the Ivy’s and other schools because they have more money than we do in their endowment, but I think this is step 1 for us. Let’s see where this goes.

Nathan Koskella: At first it seems like this is about turning down those few kids. But an admissions office should be about more than that. They’re also supposed to increase the competitiveness of the university, and making sure that the proportion of accepted to matriculated is maintained…. Basically I’m trying to understand the differences here.

Giumette: There are a lot of factors that Mark has to deal with in putting a class together. You’re right, other factors will come into play, but until we go into this, we’re not going to know how this works. It’s funny, we tout need-blind, but we’re gapping people by 8-10,000 and then awarding people on merit even if they don’t need it, and this is ok by Social Justice standards, but some talk of needing to switch to this policy isn’t ok?
We have commitments to honor, no one will lose their merit scholarships who have them already.

Audience Member: Are you moving toward a date when the details of all this will be available to the student body?

Giumette: At some point we’ll do statistics on the matriculating class, the percentage of needy students.

Audience Member: You said not all of the information is fleshed out. When will the definitive plan be released.

Giumette: We try to always look out for the students’ best interest, and that will be going forward. I’m not sure how we could be more specific than that.

Audience Member: You said we’ll be need blind for a high percentage of students. Will race or alumni status factor in at all? Is it need-blind for everyone?

Spencer: I don’t get the sense that any admission officers will be reading files any differently than normal, but we will get a sense of where the aid dollar amount lies. These are the kind of details that we’ll have to work out. Financial aid will then become a factor once we reach that line. I hope that it will be for very few students, but I’m optimistic. I still think we’ll meet 100% of need.

Morgan: How will that line be drawn? Does that happen after you’ve evaluated everyone and ranked students for desirability? Or is it a chronological thing?

Mark: Not chronological, no.

Adam: Will you release the numbers of students who are admitted on aid and not?

Heddy: If not, please plan on doing it now, we’d like to know.

Spencer: We’ve always released a class profile, but we won’t know that info till July. Students will still be coming off waitlist in the summer. You want to know how many kids this will effect. Ok.

Audience Member: What about people who apply later? Will early decision kids be given priority. What about kids who are unsure because need dominates their college hunt?

Spencer: If you apply early decision, you’ll be in the top of the pool assuming you’re not deferred. At least 20% of the class is early decision, not a big margin.

Audience Member: What about when in the year you apply, not when you get in? The order that admissions receives your application?

Giumette: Applicants have the financial aid deadline. This policy will force us to be more stringent than normal, we can’t admit someone who doesn’t apply as a need candidate but applies federally later. Also about early decision, they tend to be much less needy, because its binding, and they wouldn’t know their aid anyway. People with need want to shop around.

Audience Member: Are you foreseeing a point where you look at needy applicants in the same pool.

Giumette: For regular decision, absolutely. We won’t go chronologically until we run out, we’ll make an entire decision with reference to the whole pool.

Morgan: Assuming that needy kids don’t do ED as much, but because its public knowledge that we will meet 100% of need, don’t you expect more kids to apply ED because they’re guaranteed Financial Aid?

Spencer: No, based on our knowledge of who normally applies ED.

Sahar: There’s a rumor that we give money to scholar athletes, disguised as need based aid, even though its sports aid? What about that?

Giumette: We can’t do that. We’re a DIII school, I file a report yearly because they watch us every year. I give them a full data dump anonymously. We’ve passed with flying colors. I also sign an affidavit along with the president testifying that the information is true.

Spencer: Off topic, When the time comes, we’ll know how much we have when the time comes to accept.

Audience Member: How is need determined?

Giumette: We look at the family profile, putting the members through a standardized formula, treating everyone the same with the same data. We try to figure out the expected family contribution on a case by case basis. And sometimes, the numbers don’t add up because people feel then they can contribute a different amount.

End of Liveblog.

2 comments on “Liveblogging the “Need-sensitive” aid Town Hall.”

  1. Art Says:

    I don’t think social environment will change. No one will prance around and say,”ooh look at me, I could afford to pay for all of brandeis!”

  2. Sam Says:

    Some of the smartest people I know are here because of merit scholarships. They would have gone somewhere else that did offer them a scholarship if Brandeis hadn’t. What is this about people just going to Harvard? It doesn’t make sense – Harvard doesn’t do merit aid either.