Yale seeks approval for early admissions pact

Yale President Richard Levin met with a Justice Department official in Washington, D.C., last week to discuss whether collective action to reform early admissions policies would constitute a violation of antitrust law, Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said.

The meeting was the most recent step toward Levin’s goal of reaching an agreement among multiple schools to reform the early decision process. Levin announced in December that he wanted to work with other schools to eliminate early decision policies.

But there has been concern among Ivy League administrators that acting collectively to change admissions policies may violate antitrust law. Yale wants to be certain that cooperative action would not leave universities vulnerable to an antitrust suit, Klasky said.

The federal government has brought an antitrust suit against the Ivy League and other elite schools before. Just over a decade ago, the Justice Department filed suit against a group of elite colleges for comparing financial aid packages they were allotting to admitted students. This practice, called “overlapping,” theoretically allowed the colleges to adjust the amount they would offer to students based on the offers of the other schools.

“It had the effect of seeming to enable colleges to agree [on the package], and miraculously they often did offer the same amount,” Marlyn McGrath Lewis, the director of admissions at Harvard, said.

The case alleged that such action amounted to financial-aid price fixing. The eight Ivy League schools signed a consent decree to terminate the “overlap” procedure of comparing the financial aid packages, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology chose not to settle.

The Antitrust Division of the Justice Department brought suit against MIT in 1991, and dismissed the case in 1993 with a settlement that established a set of guidelines under which colleges could coordinate financial aid. The settlement stipulated that schools could compare the financial data submitted by individual students, but not the individual aid packages each school would award.

Yale has not yet filed an official request for advance assurance that it would not be violating the law by acting collectively on early decision, Klasky said. Such a request would be a precautionary measure to ensure that universities would not be sued for violating the law if they did act collectively to change the early admissions programs.

Businesses often make these requests for “business review letters” to determine whether a joint project will stand up to the scrutiny of antitrust enforcers, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported Levin’s meeting with federal authorities.

Klasky said the University has not yet decided whether it will seek a formal business review.

Levin, who has an extensive background in antitrust economics, has said he thinks acting collectively to reform early decision policies would not constitute a violation of antitrust law.

“The total number of students would be the same, so there are not quantity effects,” Levin said. “It’s not going to affect how much students pay.”

But Klasky said the University wants to ensure the legality of any cooperative effort before taking any action.

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