Tuition, Room, and Borders: CMC’s Need-Aware Admissions for International Students

By Angela Sun HMC ‘19

Claremont McKenna College (CMC) prides itself on being a need-blind institution. This means that applicants to the college are admitted solely on merit, without consideration of their ability to pay tuition costs. However, this label only extends to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. For international students, CMC weighs a student’s ability to pay the full cost of attendance as part of the admissions process, known as need-aware admissions. This is problematic, as it allows the college to admit students not simply on their prior achievements or future potential, but also to factor in their socio-economic status. Ultimately, CMC should adopt an institutional commitment to need-blind admissions for all students to diversify the student body and promote its stated mission to equity in education.

CMC is not able to provide need-blind admissions to all of its students because the school “has limited financial resources for international students.” When CMC provides financial aid for domestic students, this aid is subsidized by outside sources, which can come in three forms: state-funded aid (Cal Grants for California residents), federally-funded aid (Pell grants, work-study, or loans), or from private institutions (scholarships from major companies, National Merit, etc.). Many of these forms of aid have a residency requirement. Because international students cannot receive state or federal aid due to their citizenship and residency statuses, they must turn instead to their own institutions for aid. According to Jeff Huang, Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid at CMC, “most institutions simply cannot afford to offer financial aid parity for international students and domestic students,” which means that international students are assumed to be able to carry the entire financial burden of attending CMC.

Should CMC give financial aid awards to international students? The current admissions process allows the college to pick and choose international candidates based in part on their financial aid status. This practice contradicts its stated diversity goal which is to create a student body that “represent[s] a broad spectrum of political and academic philosophies, as well as to reflect diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, geographic region, age, sexual orientation, and life experiences”. By using ability to pay as a metric to choose international students who can afford CMC’s high price tag, over $73,000 for the 2017-2018 school year, the college effectively reduces the broad spectrum of life experiences resulting from differing financial resources within its student body.

CMC’s current strategy for recruiting international students is primed to attract applicants of a higher socio-economic status to learn about and apply to the college, meaning the student body would be wealthier than the general population even if financial need was not considered in the admission process.  The CMC Office of Admissions currently only visits overseas high schools that offer English instruction, which are often private or international schools that cost significantly more to attend than local public or government-sponsored schools. As for the overall student body, CMC has more students hailing from the top 1% of incomes than the bottom 60%, despite CMC having a need-blind admissions process for domestic students. Financial aid and free tuition help students afford college, but only if these students can receive an acceptance letter first. This often means having access to a high quality education as well as the necessary resources to do well in school and standardized testing. While implementing need-blind admissions for international students would add diversity to the student body, it would not change the structural educational inequities that disproportionately favor students from wealthier backgrounds.

Currently, CMC claims to not take a need-blind approach to international admissions because of limited financial resources. According to the 2016-2017 financial report, students in FY17 received about $16,000 in financial aid per student when dividing the total financial aid allotment among the entire student body. However, looking at the breakdown between sponsored and unsponsored financial aid, the college provided about $3,000 in financial aid per student, with the remaining $13,000 being awarded from various unlisted external sources. For comparison, this very same fiscal year, the college finished building Roberts Pavilion, a new $70 million facility for athletics. This suggests that CMC does not lack the necessary resources, but rather the college has not prioritized financial aid over other expenditures.

By factoring family income in the admissions process and limiting the amount of financial aid international students can receive, the college is narrowing the socio-economic diversity of its student body.  CMC’s current need-aware approach potentially allows the college to prioritize admitting international students over domestic students, instead of admitting an applicant solely on achievement. CMC should prioritize expanding financial aid to include all students, since lack of financial resources should not be the barrier between students and success.

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