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Money Increasingly a Driver in College Admission Process

Colleges often like to say they are "need-blind" when it comes to the application process. But in this tight economic climate, admissions officers admit that there is increasing pressure to recruit students with the ability to pay.

A national survey released Wednesday by Inside Higher Ed asked behind-the-scenes questions of 462 top admissions officers — anonymously — in an effort to elicit candid responses.

The economic downturn appears to be having a particular impact on public institutions, where admissions directors acknowledge new efforts to recruit full-pay undergraduates as priority "targets," the survey found. At private institutions, admissions directors said top targets for increased attention are transfer students, adults, part-timers, out-of-state residents, and international students.

The focus on students with money varies by type of institution. According to the survey, about 48 percent of moderately-selective institutions have enhanced efforts to pursue "revenue" students, and about 31 percent of less-selective campuses are doing so, compared with just 9 percent of the most-selective colleges and universities.

The push has become strong enough that 10 percent of the admissions officers at four-year colleges surveyed said they are letting in full-pay students with lower grades and test scores than other admitted applicants.

The survey also revealed 28 percent of admissions directors felt pressure from senior-level administrators to admit certain applicants and 24 percent were pushed from trustees or development officials.

In deciding which students to move off wait lists, admissions officers acknowledge that ability to pay does become a factor, previous surveys by the National Association for College Admission Counseling have shown.

Money creeping into the admissions equation is likely not a shock to many. Still, it has drawn criticism, such as from the Huffington Post, which says it is discriminatory. "In no way is it morally acceptable for individuals to gain entrance into schools based on financial credential over academic success in 2011—a decade and generation that is supposed to be a more modern and progressive society," writes Krystie Yandoli.

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