Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y., planned to announce on Monday that it was no longer considering applicants' financial need in admissions decisions. The announcement comes in a year that has so far brought mixed news on colleges' affordability efforts. Two prominent colleges have scaled back their "no loan" financial-aid policies in recent weeks, while another has announced a plan to limit price increases to the growth in the Consumer Price Index plus one percentage point.
For its part, Hamilton joins a small number of colleges that are "need blind" and commit to meet admitted students' demonstrated financial need. Such policies are expensive and require a college to relinquish much of its control over the aid budget. Only wealthier colleges can afford such uncertainty about how much tuition revenue they will have each year. Even after taking a substantial hit in the last couple of years, Hamilton's endowment stands at just under $557-million.
"We wanted to level the playing field for students on financial aid," said Monica C. Inzer, dean of admission and financial aid. The college had been moving in that direction for years. Hamilton got rid of merit scholarships in 2007, and put those resources toward need-based aid. It has also been increasing its aid budget in preparation for going need-blind. For the last several years, Hamilton has admitted more than 90 percent of its class without considering need, and Ms. Inzer has kept track of how much more the college would have had to spend on aid if admissions decisions had not considered need at all.
The change will affect current applicants, who are being admitted for the fall of 2010 without consideration of their need, although they did not know this when they applied.
The need-blind policy will not include international or transfer students, though Hamilton does meet the full demonstrated need of those students.
"We really want to protect the freshman class," Ms. Inzer said. As for international students, the college already spends about 12 percent of its aid budget on them, even though they make up only about 5 percent of enrollment. (Most international students cannot receive federal financial aid, so supporting them is more expensive.)
Ms. Inzer had hoped to move to need-blind admissions by 2012, Hamilton's bicentennial year. But five $500,000 pledges from trustees allowed the college to make the switch even sooner.