Earlier this month JBHE published an article online criticizing New York University for making telephone calls to a group of admitted, low-income students and warning them of the financial difficulties they would face if they accepted the university’s offer of admission.
JBHE’s editorial was deeply unfair to NYU. It’s regrettable that JBHE appears to have based their editorial on the New York Post, rather than the original Chronicle of Higher Education story. It is perhaps even more regrettable that the editors of JBHE never called us to discuss the story, which has been twisted by news organizations, and is now further contorted by the JBHE editorial.
NYU’s admissions are need-blind; however, NYU is not among that relatively small number of colleges and universities that are able to meet full need. It is from these two simple truths that our effort evolved. If NYU were not need-blind, there would have been no reason for us to make calls to students whose need was not fully met by financial aid: we would simply compose a class where we could be more sure of everyone’s finances. Nor would there have been a reason to make the calls if NYU could meet full need. We would have thought this would have been self-evident.
Here’s what NYU’s effort is all about: straightforward consumer information.
Financial aid is complex, and all NYU is trying to do is make sure families know what they’re getting into and are fully aware. We called families of first generation college students because financial aid is likely to be more complex-seeming for those families who have no prior experience with it. We called those with great need because they are most likely to face the greatest challenges in this economic environment. Our intention was simply to be more transparent; we would have thought that would be worthy of praise, not criticism.
Moreover, we know that economics is a key reason that students don’t finish school. NYU has one of the highest percentages of Pell-eligible students among top research universities (something the JBHE editorial regrettably did not note); we simply want the graduating class to be just as economically diverse as the entering class. We wouldn’t hesitate to talk candidly with students if we thought there were academic issues that might prevent them from graduating; why wouldn’t we be as forthright about financial issues? And this is not about income level, this is about need. A family with a relatively high income level may have circumstances that create great need. And in today’s economy, they may be among the most vulnerable.
We also find the conflation of race and need in the editorial both unmerited and unfortunate. It is a matter of regret but not surprise that NYU has fewer black students than it would wish, because the schools against which we compete are accepting the same academically competitive students but they have far greater financial aid resources (NYU, which is academically competitive with the country’s top universities, has perhaps 1/30 the per-student endowment of a Harvard, Princeton, or Yale). It is not surprising that a student will choose a college that can meet full need over one that cannot, or that a student will choose a college from which he or she will graduate debt-free over one which will require loan re-payments.
Bottom line: we have these conversations precisely because we want these students here from the start of their pursuit of their degree to the end, and we handle these conversations thoughtfully and sensitively because we are respectful of families’ decisions about their own finances.
— Barbara Hall, associate provost for enrollment management, Linda Mills, senior vice provost for undergraduate education and university life, New York University
Let’s put aside the question of the intention of New York University in making telephone calls cautioning low-income students about the complexities of financial aid.
In any event, the effect of the telephone calls will surely be a reduction in the number of low-income students who decide to enroll.
The telephone calls appear to have targeted the group of well-qualified students whose parents did not go to college. This group inevitably includes a disproportionately greater number of blacks and racial minorities.
The timing of the telephone calls seems inconsistent with the reasons given since the complexities of student aid were no more complex when the calls were made than they were when the acceptance letters went out just a few weeks beforehand. Simply put the complexities haven’t changed in many years. But suddenly NYU sends warning to these students.
It would be remarkable indeed if the effect of the letter did not open up places in the NYU entering class for students on the waiting list who are prepared to pay full tuition and do not need financial aid.
An unfavorable shift in the demographics of the entering class seems inevitable.
One certainly sympathizes with the fact that NYU has a much lower endowment per student than its peers. But in making warnings directed to accepted students, it is unfortunate that the university picked on the most vulnerable group — the very group that maintains the racial and economic diversity of the student body.
We will watch to see if NYU will make public the percentage yield of black and Hispanic students as compared to prior years. Also, will NYU disclose how many of the students who received the telephone calls ultimately decided not to enroll, and how many of these students are members of minority groups? What percentage of this year’s entering class is eligible for federal Pell Grants compared to the percentage of low-income students in recent freshman classes?