Affordability, Sustainability and Diversity: Class of 2017

The class of 2017 arrives on Wednesday. The competition to be a member of that class was more fierce than ever given our record number of applications, and to no one’s surprise the class is remarkably strong. Given the metrics we use for judging academic preparation, this is the most well-prepared class we have ever admitted. The average SAT scores are just above 700 (on all three tests), and most of the first-year students have already been successful in advanced foreign language study, mathematics and the sciences. They are a socially conscious group, and we expect them to continue their already impressive track record of turning their talents to helping those around them. Their achievements and qualities are reason for optimism for all those who care about Wesleyan and its future.

This was the first class admitted under our new need-sensitive admissions policy, and we proceeded exactly as we said we would: We read all files in a need-blind fashion and, as predicted, ended by being need-blind in roughly 90% of the decisions. Details about the class will be posted presently on the Admissions site. As always, we are meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all our students, and since there were considerably more financial aid applicants this year than ever before (6,660 in total), it does not seem that the change in our admissions policy (to be need-aware for roughly 10% of the applicants) discouraged interest in Wesleyan.  And there’s no doubt that, from a financial point of view, our new policy puts us in a much better position to secure Wesleyan’s future by helping us to control costs. That future had also been clouded by the question of affordability with Wesleyan nearing the top of the list of most expensive schools in the country, and here too we’ve made progress, with smaller tuition increases, drops in student loan levels and loans replaced by grants for the highest-need students. More reasons for optimism.

At the same time, our “yield” this year with respect to admitted students with highest need turned out to be less than what we expected. Why is a bit of a puzzle. Students to whom we offered the most aid (meeting their full need) were the ones who disproportionately chose to go elsewhere. Based on what we know about our admission and financial aid model this year, it would be hard to argue that the drop was due to our policy change. Also this year, albeit with a much smaller group, we had dramatically more success in yielding Native American students. We have no explanation for the drop (or the increase), and we don’t have the data to do more than speculate. But the drop concerns us. Is it an anomaly?

Given what we know about inequities and income distributions in the US, having fewer than anticipated highest-need students also means a drop (about 2%) in minority representation. That particular drop is small, but it’s not what we want. At Wesleyan, we are committed to affordability, sustainability and diversity.

There is some guesswork (and many statistical models) involved in putting any class together. This has been the first year operating within the parameters of our new admissions policy, and we have already begun revising our models for the future. How financial aid plays out in individual years will vary (slightly), but Wesleyan will remain among the most generous schools in America, devoting some $50 million to financial aid each year.

We are already proud of the Class of 2017’s preparation, and we eagerly anticipate their contributions to Wesleyan and the Middletown community. With boldness, rigor and practical idealism they are sure to shine!

9 thoughts on “Affordability, Sustainability and Diversity: Class of 2017”

  1. WesDEF has been working on diversity training all this week. I am not sure what they do is well understood by administration. My daughter is leading the effort and on Wednesday (Aug 28) they have a remarkable person who has devoted his professional life to diversity issues coming to work with the WedDEF students as they set their goals for the year. It might be worthwhile to stop in and see what they are learning.

  2. I appreciate the refreshing honesty by Michael Roth. No hiding behind statistics or excuses, but raising good questions that will be answered through thorough analysis. I look forward to the explanation that is sure to come. This is the kind of leadership that we expect from our President. I thank you, Michael.

  3. On the surface, as reported by President Roth, it would appear that the incoming class of 700+ students (of which only 10% were selected need sensitive) that boasts the kind of academic credentials highlighted (2100 average SAT scores, extensive AP work etc.) should meet the vast majority of alumni’s criteria/opinion as “Wesleyan ready”! However, I do believe the “socially responsible” component – somewhat difficult to accurately measure – can be given a substantial boost by the class of 2017’s involvement in the Patricelli Center SE programs as well as WAPPS member’s active engagement in nuturing interest in the nonprofit/foundation/social impact arenas……so colleagues, let’s roll up our sleeves and get ready to assist! Stephen McCarthy ’75, cofounder of WAPPS.

  4. It is dismaying to read the grunting assention of an alumni and an administration bloated with self-satisfaction. I will not send my daughter here because the answer to the President’s dimwittedly rhetorical question is obviously that applicants are sensible enough not to consider a wheelbarrow full load of loans to be a means of making college affordable.

    Dissatisfiedly yours,

    Heather Baker ’82

  5. Not quite clear what Ms. Baker’s point is about bloated self satisfaction/college affordability……if our alma mater’s $50 million budget for financial aid is not to her liking then maybe she/her daughter should find an institution less expensive/closer to home for commutation purposes, manage costs……and save funds for graduate school if that is an appropriate direction – just don’t denigrate the quality of the education we have all received over 4 years in Middletown!

  6. Heather Baker ’82 makes a worthwhile point to consider, though I think I still fall more towards President Roth’s optimistic side of the scale. During my four years of Wesleyan, Wesleyan never once met my full need in terms of financial assistance. While my brother (Claremont McKenna College, Class of 2013) and I retained the same financial profile throughout our undergraduate education, he received full aid (i.e., grants, scholarships, etc) from his college and I ended up with roughly an additional year’s Wesleyan tuition at full price in loan products.

    I hope that as we become more sensitive to the aid that we can afford to offer students, we also become more sensitive to our rhetoric surrounding financial aid and the complications that student loans create for young graduates. Let’s not say what makes us feel better or look better, but rather tell the truth about students’ financial reality. We have not “always met the full demonstrated need of our students,” we have met them often with hefty loan packages and sometimes with more debt than an undergraduate can even truly conceptualize in terms of its ramifications on their post-graduate experience.

    My hope, however, remains that our alumni base and parents will continue or begin to give as generously as they can afford in order to ensure that Wesleyan truly remains accessible without debilitating debt.

  7. I did not nor would I ever denigrate the education I received while at Wesleyan.
    When I spoke of the self- satisfied tone of the President and some alumni, whose comments I had read, I was referring to the tone with which the school’s gestures of assistance to prospective students is described, in the face of the hard realities that most students confront. Wesleyan constitutes one of the most expensive undergraduate educations in the country. Do we really know why? It can, of course, continue to exercise its prerogative to be an elitist institution offering a fine education, as it always has, to a mostly affluent student body. But for the President to express puzzlement as to why the students, to whom the school offers the most assistance, and are therefore, presumably, the most needy, choose not to come despite the school’s “generosity,” strains credulity.

  8. While Ms. Oliphant and Baker’s concerns are understood, the “stark reality of the funding matter” is that, unlike our Little Three peers with endowments in the $1-2B range, Wesleyan’s fund – stuck in the whistful largesse of My Weekly Reader/Xerox stock days – has never kept pace with them due to a significant period (1983-1998 specifically) of overspending (6-7% versus 4-5%), undergifting (40-45% versus 60%+) and poor investment performance (hundreds of basis points)! We are now in the $625-650M range as we continue the campaign and need a lot of catching up – even compared to Middlebury and Bowdoin at $800-900M – to be able to afford the generosity of our NESCAC colleagues. So unless a few billionaire/hectamillionaire alumni have a spare $25/50/100M to donate, the situation will not change dramatically in the foreseeable future!

  9. While considering the meaning of the numbers, we should also consider the meaning of Wesleyans admission standards. Should Wesleyan try to matriculate candidates with financial needs, who with their qualifications and because of their values, can and do choose to go elsewhere? A successful admissions process would matriculate candidates with ability including those with diverse backgrounds and need, who choose Wesleyan over other schools.
    WeShare may point how to how Wesleyan can refine its admission standards. Is 700 as important when we want to enroll someone who will have a powerful story to tell about how Wesleyan made an impact that set her on a 50-year journey of community engagement? It may be hard to accurately measure social responsibility, but Wesleyan probably knows more than most after countless decades of getting it right.
    Can Wesleyan improve its financial sustainability and sustain its academic standards by focusing on its richest resource – the students and alumni’s collective experience? I applaud President Roth for meeting this challenge. Wesleyan is in a good place to emphasize its values, to take risks by matriculating a class who champions those values, and to take action to adjust its admissions policies and procedures. Maybe the President’s next admissions report will focus on the stories told in applications and how these directly translate to alumni’s worldwide influence in areas that reflect the school’s values – and the footnote will be how insanely smart and diverse they are.

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