Wesleyan University has realized a basic fact of life. Someone must pay for all goods and services, including educational goods and services. Either the one who receives them pays or someone else pays on the recipient’s behalf. If the recipient does not have the funds, and cannot be realistically expected to come up with sufficient future funds to justify provision on credit, and no one else is willing or able to cover the costs, then the goods and services just can’t be made available.
I am referring to Wesleyan President Michael Roth’s declaration that the university will no longer pursue a “need-blind” admissions policy for potential students. Until now, an article in Inside Higher Education tells us, Wesleyan has been one of the few universities that both admit students without regard to need and promise to meet the full financial needs of all those admitted. This was clearly unrealistic, and I expect that the other institutions that offer this kind of guarantee will follow Wesleyan’s example.
Even colleges that do not follow the need-blind guarantee would do well to limit financial aid, while concentrating efforts on bringing costs down for all students. These two are related because need-based scholarships shift costs to other tuition payers, pushing up sticker prices, while loans to students pump up college price through long-term burdens on borrowers or taxpayers.
One of the more inane remarks on need blind admissions, quoted in the article, came from Ronald G. Ehrenberg, a professor of industrial and labor relations and economics at Cornell University, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, and member of the Board of Trustees for the State University of New York. “If higher education is supposed to be a vehicle for social mobility, and the purpose is to train the next generation of leaders, and we believe that leaders should come from all spectrums of social class, then there’s a strong argument to [maintain need-blind admissions].” One has to wonder how Dr. Ehrenburg could imagine that there are enough places at the top of our economy and society so the vast numbers of graduates we have been cranking out of our colleges can acheive "upward mobility" or where the “generation of leaders” produced by debt and vast tuition subsidies will find their followers.