2/17/2014 — Undergraduate Admissions Financial Aid Policies
To the Clark Community,
I write regarding Clark University's policies and practices for undergraduate admissions, tuition costs, and financial aid. Undergraduate education is one of the largest and most important investments students and their families make in their own lives, and in our collective futures. In this context, we have a shared responsibility to ensure that Clark is accessible and affordable, and that we provide an exceptional, life-changing, educational experience for all Clark students. Clark's commitment to these values is longstanding and will not change. Delivering on these values requires us to balance cost, accessibility, financial aid, and student debt, with the depth and quality of academic and co-curricular experiences available to students. Our policies seek to get this intrinsic balance right in the context of external economic circumstances that are changing locally and globally, as well as the financial pressures facing so many students and families.
Accessibility, affordability, and excellence are three critical goals. First, we must strive to ensure that Clark is accessible to students from diverse economic backgrounds. This commitment is foundational to America's promise that education is a pathway to opportunity for all. Second, we must seek to ensure that a Clark education is affordable to those students who do enroll, and that the combination of cost containment and provision of financial aid is such that students can graduate without an excessive burden of debt. Third, we must be sure that Clark has sufficient resources to deliver an exceptional educational experience for our students, one that is true to our mission and what we stand for in the world. This requires that we invest in programs, in people, and in facilities not just for students today, but for generations of future Clark students.
Clark's approach to meeting these goals is very careful stewardship of resources, along with generous support from alumni and friends whose gifts to Clark have enabled us to keep the cost of education lower than it would otherwise be. The third pillar of our strategy is a very large and ever-growing commitment to financial aid. Approximately 91% of Clark undergraduate students receive financial aid, and Clark's total undergraduate aid budget is $39.9 million. Over the decades, the combination of cost containment, philanthropic support from generous alumni and other donors, and a large financial aid budget have allowed us to balance, as best we can, our commitments to accessibility, affordability, and excellence. But this balance is now under great stress — not just at Clark, but across the majority of colleges and universities in this country. Since 2010, our expenditures on undergraduate financial aid have grown by $9 million (a 29% increase), putting added pressure on all other aspects of Clark's budget, including our desire to be responsive to such concerns as high levels of student debt.
How does our admissions policy factor into this? Historically Clark has been largely need blind in admissions and has strived to meet the financial need of admitted students. If the financial need of all the students who decide to enroll at Clark is higher in any given year, we have simply increased the total financial aid budget and found a way to balance the remainder of our institutional budgets. Literally we do not know until students arrive in the fall what our financial aid budget will be. Some years we end up making painful cuts in services as a result. With the continuing dislocation in the economy at large, this approach has become unsustainable. Unless we make some changes in how we approach admissions and financial aid, we would face a variety of negative choices, ranging from large tuition increases to cuts in critical programs to decreases in financial aid for enrolling students. In the face of these unacceptable alternatives, in consultation with the Clark University Board of Trustees, the Faculty Admissions & Financial Aid Committee, and our admissions team, I have made the decision that Clark will become slightly more need aware as final admissions decisions are made.
Clark will continue to admit the vast majority of students on a need-blind basis, and all applications for admission will be read and evaluated without regard to family financial circumstances. At the end of the admissions decision-making process, after determining that we are reaching the limit of our financial aid budget, we will offer the opportunity to enroll at Clark to a small number of additional students on a need-aware basis. The primary criteria for admitting these last students will remain that of academic ability and fit with Clark. The effort will be carefully monitored by the Faculty Admissions & Financial Aid Committee and by the Board of Trustees. Through this initiative, we will strengthen our capacity to meet the financial aid needs of students who do enroll at Clark.
Lest there be any doubt, we have no interest in changing the Clark University experience or the diversity of our student body. We are privileged to enroll an amazing group of caring and talented Clarkies from diverse backgrounds and experiences — this is our great strength and something from which we will never waiver. We have scheduled a forum at 2 p.m. on Thursday, February 20, in Lurie Conference Room, for members of the Clark community to discuss any questions or concerns you may have.