Until last week, six schools in the nation — Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Amherst, Dartmouth and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — boasted a need-blind admissions policy for international students. Now, there are five.
This weekend, Dartmouth reverted to a need-aware policy for foreign students, announcing that it will take financial need into account for international applicants to the Dartmouth class of 2020. Dartmouth was need-aware for international students up until the class of 2011, before switching to need-blind for the class of 2012 through the class of 2019, said Diana Lawrence, Dartmouth’s director of media relations. Need-blind admissions means that the university does not take a student’s financial situation into account when making an admissions decision.
Though the school will be returning to a need-aware policy, it still remains fully committed to meeting 100 percent of the demonstrated financial need of admitted international students, Lawrence added. Despite the policy alteration, she said, Dartmouth anticipates the enrollment of more international students, not fewer.
“Our goal is to increase and stabilize the population of international students on campus, and to enroll a population that is geographically, culturally, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, and which is robust and sustainable,” Lawrence said. “Financial need will be considered as just one of many factors.”
The change comes at the heels of significant administrative turnover within the university. In July, Dartmouth’s financial aid director of 26 years retired, in addition to the school’s longtime dean of admissions and financial aid, who will take a new role at the university as special assistant to the provost.
Though Lawrence said the policy is meant to grow Dartmouth’s international population, outside experts speculated that the university is simply financially unable, or unwilling, to support the costs of high-need international students.
Most schools are heavily dependent on government support to help them cover the costs of needier students, said Parke Muth, a former associate dean of admissions and director of international admissions at the University of Virginia. International students are not eligible for federal money, Muth added, and full-need international students also need travel money built into their scholarships. As a result, full-need international students cost several thousand dollars more than full-need domestic students, Muth said.
“The logic behind Dartmouth’s policy switch is that they recognize that they do not have the funds to read [international student] applications in a way that does not consider the family’s ability to pay,” Muth said.
He added that while the rationalization for the policy change — an attempt to “increase and stabilize” the number of international students — seems misleading, it may represent a possible trend of low-income international students having lower graduation rates than students who are able to pay. Changes in family circumstances may mean that students cannot return to Dartmouth, Muth said.
Still, he added, it is hard to understand Dartmouth’s logic since it does not appear, at least on the surface, that changing the aid policy would increase and sustain the school’s international population.
“How could increasing the criteria required to gain admission possibly increase students?” said Elizabeth Casey ’18, a student from the United Kingdom on financial aid. “They may, in fact, increase international intake, but it will be very wealthy international students, who already make up a large proportion of applicants from overseas.”
Casey added that private international schools are generally better equipped to help their students apply to American schools, which immediately gives wealthier international students an advantage over their poorer peers.
Selective colleges often like to get diversity “on the cheap,” said Richard Kahlenberg, an education expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation. This means, he added, that universities tend to enroll economically advantaged minority students alongside economically advantaged white students, in order to create a “diverse” class. Kahlenberg said this trend is reflected in Dartmouth’s policy change.
“The same phenomenon seems to apply among international students,” Kahlenberg said. “By recruiting well-off students from abroad, selective colleges can claim to enhance diversity without actually having to provide the financial aid needed to create a class that is truly diverse on many dimensions, including race, ethnicity, geography and socioeconomic status.”
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said Yale’s need-blind policy for international applicants has significantly contributed to the diversity of the student body. Over the last 15 years, Quinlan said, the international student population in Yale College has grown from 5 to 11 percent, with students representing 85 different countries.
“The need-blind policy has been hugely effective in attracting the best and brightest students from around the world,” Quinlan said. “Yale is fully committed to a need-blind admissions policy for all students, regardless of citizenship. It forms the foundation of our philosophy of accessibility in admissions.”
But according to Lawrence, Dartmouth will continue to pursue the most talented and accomplished students in the world, regardless of where they reside.
“If we find that our overall plan of increased recruitment, need-aware admissions and generous full-funding aid does not enable us to achieve what we’re seeking, we will revisit the policy,” Lawrence said.
Each year, over $16 million in aid is given to international students by Yale University.