College Council (CC) passed a resolution during its April 3 meeting calling for an end to the College’s need-aware policy for international applicants.
Co-authored by CC and International Club (IC) members, the resolution “implores the College to reinstate need-blind admissions to international students as soon as possible,” emphasizing that the policy would bring the College “closer and truer to its mission and purpose.” CC representatives approved the resolution by a 20-0-3 vote.
The campaign to readopt need-blind admission, which is currently used only for domestic applicants, gained renewed traction when IC hung posters around campus protesting the College’s need-aware policy for international applicants. Admission was need-blind for all applicants between 2001 and 2010, and some peer institutions, including Amherst and Harvard, remain need-blind. However, the College became need-aware for its international applicants beginning with the class of 2015, citing the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on its endowment. While domestic applications are considered without regard for financial need, the Office of Admission can view international applicants’ demonstrated need before making admission decisions.
According to data provided by Director of Institutional Research Courtney Wade, the level of financial aid for international students fell following the return to need-aware admission. While 80 percent of international students received aid in the 2010-2011 academic year, the last year during which all students were admitted need-blind, just 60 percent did in 2014-15. This year, 58 percent of international students are receiving aid, with $6,114,078 being awarded in total. By comparison, Amherst provides $9,117,196 in aid to international students, 87 percent of whom receive assistance, according to the Amherst Common Data Set.
The 2014 Investment Report declared that, adjusted for inflation, the endowment had returned to pre-recession levels, and in November 2014, CC, IC and the Minority Coalition (MinCo) passed a resolution recommending that the College readopt its need-blind policy. While the resolution was shown to trustees, admission remained need-aware for international applicants.
According to former IC co-chair and current MinCo co-chair Amina Awad ’18, the need-blind label has a profound effect on both prospective applicants and current students. “A lot of times, international students who need financial aid will just look up the list of who’s need blind and just apply there,” she said. “But probably the worst outcome of all is people lying and saying they don’t need financial aid when they actually do and then going into debt.
“As the head of IC, I had to deal with students who would say, ‘I might have to drop out of Williams because they won’t let me register for financial aid, and my family’s struggling financially.’”
Before drafting this year’s resolution, writers discussed the issue in meetings with administrators and spoke with Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01 and Associate Director for International Recruitment Tanya Aydelott to learn more about the admission process. CC’s Vice President for Communications Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí ’20, Assistant Treasurer Haoyu Sheng ’20, Parliamentarian Ellie Sherman ’20 and Class of 2021 Representative Papa Freduah Anderson ’21 collaborated with IC co-chairs Isabel Andrade ’18 and Gabrielle Ilagan ’18 and Awad over spring break to pen the resolution. This collective effort allowed the writers to consider input from several sources in formulating the resolution.
CC Co-Presidents Lizzy Hibbard ’19 and Moisés Roman Mendoza ’19 said that administrators showed interest in the issue but raised concerns about tradeoffs. “That’s why we incorporated language that the College ‘not frame this proposed change as one that pits domestic students against international students, and that a need-blind admission process for international students does not, and should not, disadvantage domestic students,’” they said.
In the past week, the resolution has been brought forth to the Committee on Priorities and Resources, among other groups. Hibbard and Roman Mendoza expressed a desire to continue CC’s advocacy for the policy. “This resolution was an articulation that this is an important issue to students,” they said. “We’ve brought it up with various administrators and will continue to push for updates in meetings.”
Cabrera-Lomelí reiterated the the desire to use CC as a platform to bring attention to the issue and remind the College to review its priorities. “If we call ourselves a global institution, we have to act like it,” he said. “Our endowment is based upon a lot of international investment. We take a lot from the world financially, but we’re not willing to offer students from the world the same opportunity.”
Creighton said that several parties would have to be involved if any change in admission policy were to take effect. “Any significant change to admission and financial aid policy is considered by the president and provost, trustees and Committee on Admission and Financial Aid and also takes into account input from students, faculty and staff across the College,” she said.
The resolution’s potential impact is magnified by the fact that new administrators are currently entering the College. Hiring for new directors of Admission and Financial Aid is currently taking place, and incoming President Maud Mandel will transition into her role on July 1. “This is something we want President-elect Mandel to also see and that we will be bringing up when we meet with her,” Cabrera-Lomelí said.
“The Office of Admission and Financial Aid agrees that the need-aware policy for international applicants is an issue we want to consider with President Mandel when she gets here and with the Board of Trustees,” Creighton added.
Cabrera-Lomelí said that the authors attempted to conceive the resolution in such a way that would withstand arguments given against need-blind admission in the past. He said that past counterarguments centered on claims that the change would not be financially feasible and that it would harm admission and financial aid prospects for domestic applicants.
“The financial reason we’re told we can’t do it is the size of our endowment,” Cabrera-Lomelí said. According to the 2017 Investment Report, the College’s endowment closed last year at a high-water mark of $2.5 billion.
“When it comes to our financial aid budget, feasibility is determined by priorities,” Hibbard and Roman Mendoza said. “If we set being need-blind for international students as a priority, we believe [the College] would be able to make that work.”
Creighton said that the endowment’s recovery has allowed for increased spending on academic support, mental health services, building and renovations and financial aid. “If we now want to think about need-blind admissions for international students – and I think that’s a very important topic for us to consider – we would also have to identify new sources of funds or areas of the budget that could absorb offsetting reductions,” she said. “Williams faces incredibly difficult choices among equally worthy causes.”
The other primary concern is that if the College were to readopt a need-blind policy, domestic applicants would lose access to admission spots or would receive less financial aid. While there is no strict cap on the number of international students admitted per year, they typically comprise between 6 and 8 percent of the student body. Creighton also reaffirmed that the College meets 100 percent of demonstrated need for all students and that its commitment to that principle is unwavering.
Awad emphasized the importance of institutional memory in advancing the campaign. “We can keep passing resolutions and so on, but we need to have more active response and communication with the Board of Trustees,” Awad said. “This isn’t the first CC resolution, this isn’t the first campaign and this is clearly something students have cared about, care about now and will continue to care about.”