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Grinnell College keeps need-blind admissions policy

Published: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 11:50 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 11:52 a.m. CST

GRINNELL (AP) — Leaders at Grinnell College have decided not to scrap the Iowa college’s policy of being “blind” to students’ ability to pay tuition — for now.

Grinnell is one of the nation’s wealthiest private liberal arts colleges, managing a $1.5 billion endowment that has grown to among the country’s largest, thanks to investment advice from former trustee and Omaha billionaire investor Warren Buffett. But the Des Moines Register reports that the college’s board of trustees had been considering pulling back from its need-blind admissions policy — where acceptance is not based on ability to pay — because of budget concerns.

On Saturday, the board voted to keep the need-blind policy, but will revisit the issue in the fall of 2015. The board also voted to ask students to take out more in loans over four years than the $3,000 already asked. Starting next year, students will be asked to take out $3,500 over four years. That rises to $5,500 by 2016.

“This is the right decision for Grinnell at this time,” Grinnell College President Raynard Kington said in a statement after the vote. “Grinnell has long maintained one of the most generous financial aid programs in the U.S. Our leadership in this area has allowed us to attract and enroll the most talented students from all over the world, and to provide them with an academic and co-curricular program that is among the very best in the nation. We are committed to keeping Grinnell affordable.”

But if the college doesn’t make sufficient progress toward fundraising and tuition revenue goals over the next 18 months, the college’s board may end the need-blind policy.

The warning comes as Grinnell College saw its endowment value drop 7.8 percent last year because of market conditions.

It is not the only private liberal arts college struggling with finances.

Wesleyan University in Connecticut last year announced plans to eliminate its need-blind admissions. Three years ago, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire cut costs by asking some students to take out more loans.

Grinnell students graduate with an average debt of $15,720, the lowest in the state and nearly half that of Iowa’s public university graduates. That’s despite the college’s $50,618 in annual tuition and housing costs — more than twice as high as state institutions. Grinnell students, on average, receive $35,388 in financial aid, and nearly 90 percent of students receive an award.

College officials worry the endowment will shrink under current payouts to students, endangering financial aid to future generations.

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