GW no longer calls itself need-blind. How’d we get here?

Media Credit: Associate Vice President and Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper announced she will "retire" last December – a month after GW has faced scrutiny following the announcement that the admissions office had been inflating data for more than a decade. Hatchet File Photo

GW now admits that it factors in financial need before sending out all acceptance letters – erasing the “need-blind” label it trumpeted for years.

But look back a little farther, and you’ll see the University has a long history struggling to sell itself and its price tag. Here’s a look back at some of the important background to GW’s admissions process and pricing strategy.

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who was University president for 19 years, presided over huge increases in tuition. Hatchet File Photo

Under former president, a surge in tuition
GW, led by former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, came under scrutiny in 2007 when it became the first university to charge more than $50,000 for cost of attendance.

Students pointed to small spending sprees on laser light shows at Colonial Inauguration and GW’s double-decker bus that drove through campus for admissions tours as signs of excess.

Tuition and cost of attendance quickly surged from $25,000 in 1987 to $51,000 in 2007 (accounting for inflation).

Trachtenberg also told The Atlantic last year that most students wouldn’t mind high tuition because “people equate price with the value of their education” – comparing universities with vodka brands that price themselves higher to create the illusion of quality.

Administrators like Trachtenberg also justified the rise in price by pointing to the fact that GW relies heavily on tuition to fund programs. (GW’s other sources of income, like fundraising and endowment, are smaller that a lot of other top private schools.) He argued that higher tuition could then pay for better professors and facilities to help improve the University.

Trachtenberg retired in 2007 after 19 years of stretching GW’s campus footprint, increasing selectivity and strengthening its endowment.

University President Steven Knapp, right, took over in GW in 2007 just as its price tag crossed the $50,000 threshold. Hatchet File Photo
University President Steven Knapp, right, took over in GW in 2007 just as its price tag crossed the $50,000 threshold. Hatchet File Photo

Trying to contain the damage
With that price tag also came a reputation of being a “rich-kid school,” which has still lingered despite efforts to tackle affordability.

GW instituted a fixed-tuition program in 2004 that locks undergraduates into one price until they get their degree. Administrators point to this policy the most when defending GW’s high tuition and cost of attendance.

The University also rolled back merit aid in favor of more need-based scholarships in 2007. Since then, GW has touted that about 60 percent of students receive grant aid and is prioritizing financial aid as a key part of its upcoming fundraising campaign, expected to total at least $1 billion.

Associate Vice President and Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper announced she will "retire" last December – a month after GW has faced scrutiny following the announcement that the admissions office had been inflating data for more than a decade. Hatchet File Photo
Associate Vice President and Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper announced she will “retire” last December – a month after GW has faced scrutiny following the announcement that the admissions office had been inflating data for more than a decade. Hatchet File Photo

A history of admissions dishonesty
But some of those cost-containing efforts during University President Steven Knapp’s tenure have come in the backdrop of controversies in the admissions office.

GW admitted last fall that it inflated admissions data to U.S. News & World Report, which booted GW off its coveted rankings.

Admissions officers had counted the top-credentialed incoming freshmen as being in the top 10 percent of their high school class, even if the high school didn’t report class rank. Kathryn Napper, former head of admissions, stepped down a month after that news broke and her former office was stripped of record-keeping power.

GW chose not to replace her position, as it was already planning to hire a new administrator, Laurie Koehler, to lead both the admissions and financial aid offices. Koehler, who took over this summer, was the first administrator to talk about the need-aware policy.

Napper had for years repeated in interviews that GW is need-blind, meaning it does not factor financial need into admissions decisions.

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