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It wasn’t that long ago that the most selective colleges in our region admitted high school seniors with a promise to meet all demonstrated financial need without even first checking how much a student’s family could afford to pay.
Carleton went to “need-aware” admissions in the early 1990s, and St. Paul’s Macalester College did likewise in 2006.
Of the colleges in the region near the top of the well-known U.S. News & World Report ranking, only Grinnell College in Iowa remains “need-blind” in deciding who gets in and also promises to meet any demonstrated financial need.
As Grinnell’s Joseph Bagnoli Jr. explained recently, Grinnell is one of two dozen institutions in the so-called 568 Presidents’ Group.
Each 568 group member is committed to need-blind admissions and meeting 100 percent of the families’ demonstrated financial need. It’s a group that is shrinking.
Grinnell can stay in the group, and support a $45 million grant budget for about 1,600 students, because it’s rich.
Macalester had a healthy total endowment of $663 million at the end of its last fiscal year, but that’s dwarfed by Grinnell’s $1.55 billion. Grinnell certainly benefited from the more than four decades of involvement of a guy from Nebraska named Warren Buffett.
One result of its financial position is that only about 11 percent of Grinnell students pay the full comprehensive fee, which was $53,650 this year.
Bagnoli, who is Grinnell’s vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid, said parents writing checks for the full amount do ask him whether they are “carrying” the students from less-affluent families.
“Grinnell doesn’t charge anyone, even those who pay the full comprehensive fee, the full cost of education,” he said. “Every family’s paying less than it costs.”
Grinnell has considered how long it can continue these practices, with costs rising faster than the incomes of families with college-age students.
“I was speaking with a colleague recently at another national liberal arts college like Grinnell,” Bagnoli said, “She said to me, ‘Wow, pretty soon people are going to realize that this isn’t sustainable for any of us.’ ”
The wisest parents already know that.
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