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George Washington University Misrepresented Its Admission Policy

Every once in a while, a student newspaper scores a great scoop: That's the case with the story dropped today by The GW Hatchet, the independent student newspaper of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The paper reports that for years the university has been misrepresenting its admissions policy. As the paper points out, the university went from claiming to run a "need-blind" admissions policy in which they said financial aid requests do not affect admissions decisions, to clarifying that they have had a "need-aware" admissions policy. The university, reported the Hatchet, was still telling prospective students it was a "need-blind" university during an informational session on Saturday.

The issue here is that while they said they were "need-blind," the university was wait-listing some students based on their inability to pay full tuition. On the hand, it was admitting some more wealthy students who could afford full tuition but would have ended up on the wait list.

The Hatchet reports:

"Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, called GW's past claims 'dishonest.'

"'It's misleading,' said Vedder, who is also an economics professor at the Ohio University. 'Need-blind would mean, "We don't pay a bit of attention to financial considerations in making admissions decisions," and GW clearly does.'

"University spokeswoman Candace Smith argued that GW's characterization of the University's admission policy as need-blind or need-aware was not 'intentionally misleading.'

"'It's still the same process, but it's a matter of one person defining it one way and one person defining it another way,'" Smith said.

The university issued a statement about the story, earlier today. It read in part:

"It is important to note that consideration of need occurs at the very end of the admissions process. The first review of applications is need blind and admissions committees recommend candidates for admission with no knowledge of need. Some admissions professionals use the phrase "read need blind" to describe a process like ours where the admissions committees do not have access to the amount of need of an applicant.

"The Hatchet story suggests that the university's practice of need aware admissions automatically disadvantages students with need. Quite the contrary, our need aware admissions policy enables the university to provide more attractive aid packages for students with financial need while staying within our aid budget. More than 60 percent of our students receive grants from the university."

Gawker counters:

"The really ugly part of 'need-aware' admissions is the concurrent rise of merit aid, or scholarships tied to an applicant's academic profile, which overwhelming accrue to the wealthiest applicants. In September Washington Monthlytraced this phenomenon back to a collection of Ohio colleges attempting to poach the others' most desirable applicants. The resulting dynamic—if a college refuses to grant merit aid, the 'best' applicants will flock to a school that does—presently affects all but the oldest and most moneyed universities. (Which already overwhelming educatethe world's most elite tier.)

"GWU's deception is uniquely terrible, however, because the school traded on a hope that it had literally zero intention of fulfilling. 6.5 percent of its students qualify for Pell grants! This is a school largely dedicated to attracting and educating students who are already wealthy. Which is fine, if not especially admirable. But you can't advertise yourself as open to educating disadvantaged kids when you discriminate against them for not having as much money as the next applicant."

The university said that it decided to change the way it described its process, following the departure of Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Kathryn Napper.

Napper retired in December, a month after U.S. News & World Report removed G.W. from its rankings, after the university admitted it had inflated the credentials of its incoming freshmen.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.