George Washington University Lied About Financial Aid Program

Less than a month after George Washington University began construction of an enormous $130 million “Super Dorm,” the D.C. university admitted today that its admissions office had deliberately lied for several years about whether the school considered applicants’ financial need when assessing their fitness for admission.

The University admitted publicly for the first time Friday that it puts hundreds of undergraduate applicants on its waitlist each year because they cannot pay GW’s tuition.

Administrators now say the admissions process has always factored in financial need. But that contradicts messaging from the admissions and financial aid offices that, as recently as Saturday, have regularly attested that the University remained need-blind.

The GW Hatchet, an independent student newspaper, says school officials altered language on GWU’s website after the paper’s staff confronted them about the details of their need-blind policy, which shuttles less-than-wealthy students to waitlist purgatory. Meaning that GWU officials were marketing their school as a bulwark of class-leveling meritocracy, and then secretly favoring applicants who could pay full freight. Those $130 million dorms don’t just pay for themselves!

A lot of colleges, not just GWU, practice “need-aware” admissions, where admissions officers take into account an applicant’s (or her family’s) ability to pay tuition. Indeed, very, very few colleges are truly “need-blind,” since financial aid packages—grants, scholarships, loans, and so forth—are often subject to the discretion of the same individuals who admit a college’s future freshmen. It doesn’t matter if you got into a particular college if you can’t afford to enroll.

The really ugly part of “need-aware” admissions is the concurrent rise of merit aid, or scholarships tied to an applicant’s academic profile, which overwhelming accrue to the wealthiest applicants. In September Washington Monthly traced this phenomenon back to a collection of Ohio colleges attempting to poach the others’ most desirable applicants. The resulting dynamic—if a college refuses to grant merit aid, the “best” applicants will flock to a school that does—presently affects all but the oldest and most moneyed universities. (Which already overwhelming educate the world’s most elite tier.)

GWU’s deception is uniquely terrible, however, because the school traded on a hope that it had literally zero intention of fulfilling. 6.5 percent of its students qualify for Pell grants! This is a school largely dedicated to attracting and educating students who are already wealthy. Which is fine, if not especially admirable. But you can’t advertise yourself as open to educating disadvantaged kids when you discriminate against them for not having as much money as the next applicant.

Have fun with your Super Dorm, GW. You earned it.

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