Section: archive

Nugent avoids DOJ investigation into aid

By David McCabe

Over the summer, the United States Department of Justice considered opening an investigation into whether presidents of several private colleges ラ including former Kenyon President S. Georgia Nugent ラ violated federal antitrust laws when they discussed how to reform their institutions’ financial aid practices at a conference earlier this year. The agency told the presidents and the colleges last month that they would not open a formal investigation.

While a panel at a conference of college presidents held last year was mentioned by the DOJ when they notified schools and presidents of their inquiries, that session was part of a larger conversation in the higher education world regarding how financial aid is awarded to students ラ and particularly the role that merit aid should play in helping students pay for college. Last academic year, Nugent and other presidents began to make the case to the public that the use of merit aid, which is given to students based on their academic records, rather than financial need, should be reassessed.

Discounts provided through merit aid, Nugent and others argued, had grown wildly out of control. Colleges, they said, were forced to take money out of their budgets for need-based aid in order to compete with their peer institutions on merit aid.

Early in 2013, at the conference of college presidents, Nugent and others presented a session on the broad idea of colleges backing away from merit aid. In a letter to the schools and presidents, including Nugent and Kenyon, sent in May and obtained by the Collegian through a Freedom of Information Act request, the DOJ asked them to preserve any materials related to the discussion.

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jennifer Delahunty indicated this week that the DOJ’s actions had ruled out any partnership between schools on merit aid. She said that schools will need to find ways to change the federal system for determining need-based aid, which she said sometimes leaves parents desperate for merit aid in order to pay for the cost of college.

“I would like to see colleges bind together to look at the needs-analysis system,” she said. “Let’s just leave the merit aid discussion behind for now.”

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