Facing Rising Costs, Holy Cross Moves Away From Need-Blind Admissions

May 8, 2019

Some colleges and universities across the country have taken a more egalitarian approach to admissions: removing students' ability to pay from their decisions. But College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, has inched back in that direction.

Out of the thousands of colleges and universities across the country, about 100 don't consider U.S. students' financial resources when deciding whom to admit.

That's according to Mark Kantrowitz, who tracks all that for savingforcollege.com.

"A college that's need-blind admits students without regard to their financial need," he said. "But that doesn't mean they meet all their financial need. They may leave a gap of unmet need."

Kantrowitz said a smaller group of about 50 colleges and universities are not only need-blind, but offer to meet demonstrated need with financial aid, like grants and loans, for U.S. students. For decades, Holy Cross was one of them.

"It's sort of like a blank check," said Ann McDermott, admissions director at Holy Cross. "You don't know as you go through each class what it's going to cost. "

McDermott said that over the last four years, the school's financial aid expenditures jumped from $49 million to $67 million. 

"I think the trustees and all the powers that be that looked at this, [and] just saw that with spending continuing to increase, and realizing that we could really put ourselves in sort of a corner if we continue to do this," she said. 

This year, Holy Cross followed the need-blind approach for the vast majority of U.S. students it let in. But for the final 92, their ability to pay was part of the equation.

"We personally believe that all students should be admitted blind of all of these other factors that are beyond their control," she said. "So it's something that personally saddened me. But at the same time, just like with our personal dollars, you just can't keep spending money that you don't have."

Amherst College is part of a more exclusive group in terms of what it offers. Its admission are need-blind, and it meets the need of all admitted students — domestic and international — with no loans.

Matt McGann, Amherst's dean of admission and financial aid, said that approach has paid dividends for the school.

"We're very proud of our socioeconomic diversity, our racial and ethnic diversity, our geographic diversity, our diversity of thought — and much of this is attributable directly to our financial and admission policies," McGann said. 

Of course, at about $2.4 billion, Amherst's endowment is roughly three times the size of Holy Cross's.

Holy Cross said it will consider whether to return to totally need-blind admissions on a year-to-year basis.