Originally Posted by mithawk
Originally Posted by 22B
I am very skeptical that it is used for social justice, and if anything, the opposite may be true, that they use it to intentionally favor some groups and disfavor others, at the expense of social mobility. An obvious way to do this is, while supposedly being "needs blind", to look for signals of ability to pay, which a lot of extracurricular activities are.
I still favor the social engineering angle.

There was a recent NY Times article on colleges that, among other things, showed the endowment per student (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/09/upshot/top-colleges-that-enroll-rich-middle-class-and-poor.html). Assuming this chart is accurate, there are 7 colleges (including 3 Ivies) that have endowments of around $1M per student. Given that college endowments have averaged real returns of about 7%, these 7 colleges could charge zero tuition if they chose to. But I believe college is a Veblen good, so there is no reason for them to offer a low price.

Among the Ivies, Dartmouth follows with ~$650K/student, while Brown, Columbia, UPenn, and Cornell are "slumming it" with endowments between $250K - $350K per student. At $250K per student, Cornell could generate about $18K per student in financial aid without depleting its endowment, and that ignores all other sources of financial aid the student is eligible for. So for practical purposes, I do believe that the Ivies are truly "need blind". There are also 23 other non-Ivy colleges with endowments higher than the bottom 4 Ivy colleges, and these too can be considered completely "need-blind".

This is a simple example. I understand that colleges choose to spend their endowment returns on many other things besides financial aid, but I think the "need-blind" status holds.
There was actually a thread about that article here.

There are two different things that need to be distinguished: "need-blind" and "meets full need".

"Meets full need" means that a student is charged what they can affford based on parent/student assets/income, or to be concrete, pays the FAFSA-EFC (where it is completely and universally understood that if you borrow $X then you are paying that $X (plus interest)). In fact, places like Harvard are even more generous than this to the poorest ninety percent of households. It is definitely true that there are several colleges that genuinely try to be affordable to almost everyone (if you can get in).

"Need-blind" means that financial status is not a factor in admissions. This is what I am skeptical about. Even if the admissions people don't see the financial info, the applications will be full of signals of ability to pay, and the universities have a very obvious financial incentive to consider that. Of course there will be a correlation between academic ability and SES, so a statistical bias towards higher SES consistent with that correlation is completely justified, but if the statistical bias towards higher SES is even higher than that, then the "need-blind" claim should be called into question.