Vassar Today

President's Page: Need-Blind and Open to All

By Catharine Hill

It’s really hard to believe that I’m already starting my second year as president of Vassar. My first year was filled with so many memorable moments and so many “firsts” — from Fall to Spring Convocation, from the arrival of the students to Commencement and Reunion — as my family and I came to know and love our new home. With a new academic year beginning, I want to share some news and thoughts with those of you who already knew, long before I did, how wonderful Vassar is.

If I had to pick the most important moment of my first year — and that’s not easy — it would be an announcement I made at Commencement, and again at Reunion. With support from the entire Vassar community, and the unanimous endorsement of the Board of Trustees, we are returning to making admissions decisions without taking into account the financial need of applicants. In other words, Vassar is once again “need-blind” in the admissions process.

I realize that some of our alumnae/i may be surprised to hear our college’s policy was ever anything else. Ten years ago, Vassar began to factor financial need into a limited number of admissions decisions — a policy approved by the board then, in an understandable attempt to control rising costs. Those costs have not, in fact, gone away; but it’s become increasingly clear that, when promising students fail to apply to our college for fear they may not be able to afford to come here — or that they will not get in because of their financial need — the cost to Vassar, to those students and their families, and to our collective future is far greater than we can ever measure.

This is not, therefore, a mere technical change. As we all know, Vassar’s very founding was based on the idea of making a quality education available to promising students — specifically, young women — to whom, by and large, it previously had been denied. And, from the very beginning, the college has made sure resources have been available to students from families who need scholarship assistance. It was Matthew Vassar’s own generosity that first made this possible.

You might be surprised to learn what that gift, and all the gifts that have followed, have allowed the college to do. More than half of our students receive some sort of direct financial assistance from Vassar. And when the true cost of educating each Vassar student is calculated, barely half of that is covered by tuition, room, and board, so that all our students are receiving a subsidy. The resources represented by gifts, and the endowment built upon past and current gifts, cover the balance.

A return to need-blind admissions is therefore consistent with, and a natural evolution of, our past and present commitment of significant resources to financial aid. It comes with a cost that is very real, but one we are prepared to bear, thanks above all to the generosity, past, present, and future, of our graduates.

A need-blind policy is also key to addressing our country’s continuing demographic shifts. First-generation college students, young people from urban areas, and the new wave of young immigrants constitute the fastest-growing segments of the college-age population. We want all students striving for the best in higher education to know that a Vassar education is within their reach.

If announcing this change was the most important and the proudest moment of my inaugural year, it’s still just a beginning. I’ve spent much of my first year talking with the faculty, students, administration, the board, and alumnae/i, as we determine the direction our college needs to take in the coming years. The issue of access and affordability embodied in the need-blind decision, and more broadly in all of Vassar’s financial aid programs, has emerged clearly as a major priority for us. Other likely priorities continue to be discussed — the quality of our residential life, the role of the sciences at Vassar, and our long tradition of academic excellence and innovation, to name just a few. Beginning with the next issue of the Quarterly, we will share some of these ideas with you — and, importantly, include you in our ongoing discussions.

It’s been a wonderful, exciting year for me. One of the best parts of being president of Vassar is the chance to meet so many of you, the college’s alumnae/i. In the coming year, I’m looking forward to meeting many more of you and to hearing your ideas about Vassar’s future.

Catharine Bond Hill signature
Catharine Bond Hill signature