Stu­dents push Ivy League to drop fee for needy ap­pli­cants

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Jen­nifer Mcder­mott

PROV­I­DENCE, R.I. >> Ivy League stu­dents are ask­ing their schools to au­to­mat­i­cally waive the ap­pli­ca­tion fee for ap­pli­cants who are low-in­come or the first in their fam­i­lies to at­tend col­lege.

A letter to the Ivies was penned by Brown Uni­ver­sity se­nior Viet Nguyen.

Nguyen leads the un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent gov­ern­ment at Brown and asked stu­dent gov­ern­ment lead­ers at the other seven uni­ver­si­ties to sign on. He said Wed­nes­day that the letter was be­ing dis­trib­uted on the cam­puses.

Al­ready, low-in­come stu­dents who get a fee waiver for the SAT col­lege en­trance exam can choose four col­leges from over 2,000 par­tic­i­pat­ing col­leges and ap­ply for free. Stu­dents can also re­quest a waiver from a school di­rectly.

But, Nguyen said, some stu­dents don’t know to ask or use their waivers on schools with higher ac­cep­tance rates.

Nguyen said his letter was signed by stu­dent gov­ern­ment lead­ers at Columbia Col­lege, Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity, Dart­mouth Col­lege, Har­vard Col­lege, Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity, Yale Col­lege and the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, as well as groups for first-gen­er­a­tion or low­in­come stu­dents. It asks schools to make the change for the next ap­pli­ca­tion cy­cle be­gin­ning in Septem­ber.

Stu­dent lead­ers at North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity, Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago signed on too.

In Septem­ber, Bow­doin Col­lege in Maine elim­i­nated its ap­pli­ca­tion fee for stu­dents who re­quire fi­nan­cial aid and for ap­pli­cants seek­ing to be among the first in their fam­i­lies to at­tend col­lege, say­ing the fee can be a gen­uine bar­rier. Trin­ity Col­lege in Con­necti­cut waived it for first-gen­er­a­tion un­der­grad­u­ates. New York City pub­lic school stu­dents from low-in­come fam­i­lies no longer have to pay a fee to ap­ply to the City Uni­ver­sity of New York.

Reed Col­lege in Ore­gon elim­i­nated its ap­pli­ca­tion fee al­to­gether in 2013 to be more in­clu­sive.

Schools do have good rea­sons to have the fee, said Mi­lyon Trulove, vice pres­i­dent and dean of ad­mis­sion and fi­nan­cial aid at Reed Col­lege. For one, it’s a way to en­sure that stu­dents who are the most se­ri­ous about ap­ply­ing to their school do so, es­pe­cially now, as stu­dents ap­ply to many col­leges, he added.

But for Reed, the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits out­weighed that.

The ap­pli­cant pool has dou­bled to about 6,000 ap­pli­ca­tions an­nu­ally and the pro­por­tion of ap­pli­ca­tions from U.S. stu­dents from di­verse back­grounds, many of whom are first-gen­er­a­tion or low-in­come stu­dents, in­creased by roughly six per­cent­age points, Trulove said.

“Rather than hav­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion be a hur­dle, we need to make it an en­try­way,” he said.

When asked about au­to­mat­i­cally waiv­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion fee, Prince­ton, Dart­mouth and the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia said they do waive the fee for stu­dents who ask through the com­mon ap­pli­ca­tion for col­leges. North­west­ern says it waives the fee for those who ap­ply through a com­mu­nity-based or­ga­ni­za­tion; for Chicago and Evanston, Illi­nois, res­i­dents; and for low-in­come stu­dents.

At Yale, more than 30 per­cent of ap­pli­cants asked for a fee waiver last year, the high­est per­cent­age on record, and all re­quests were granted, said Mark Dunn, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of un­der­grad­u­ate ad­mis­sions.

Yale has sent post­cards to low-in­come prospec­tive stu­dents ex­plain­ing the waiver. For most ap­pli­cants, the fee isn’t a fi­nan­cial bur­den, and the school wants to en­sure that those re­ceiv­ing a waiver need it, Dunn said.

Brown says it’s dis­cussing the fee with stu­dent lead­ers. The uni­ver­sity also waives the fee for every prospec­tive stu­dent who asks for fi­nan­cial rea­sons. Brown says it shares the com­mit­ment to ac­ces­si­bil­ity re­flected in the state­ment from Nguyen and his peers.

When Nguyen ap­plied to col­lege, he fret­ted over how his fam­ily could pay hun­dreds of dol­lars in ap­pli­ca­tion fees. The fees may seem in­signif­i­cant, but if a stu­dent ap­plies to a dozen schools, it could eas­ily add up to $1,000 that could’ve gone to food or rent, he said.

Nguyen said when he ap­plied to col­leges, he di­rectly asked eight schools to waive the fee, apol­o­giz­ing for the in­con­ve­nience and for be­ing poor.

They agreed to, but he said the process was hu­mil­i­at­ing.

“If higher ed­u­ca­tion is se­ri­ous about our com­mit- ment to pro­vid­ing ac­cess to stu­dents re­gard­less of their class back­ground, we need to ac­tively work to en­sure that they are not de­terred even be­fore they ap­ply,” he wrote in his letter.

The stu­dents are call­ing the push “No Apolo­gies.”

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