The decision to end need-blind admissions for international students merits further discussion. But, since there are so many components to the issue, I will break the conversation about into discrete parts, each taking place at noon over the next week or so. (If there are specific aspects you want to discuss, please list them in the comments.)

Let’s start with fundamentals. Why does Williams treat international students differently from domestic ones? From WSO:

You have no more control over the place of your birth than you do over your gender, race, class, or (arguably) your sexual orientation. You probably have more control over your gender than you do over your citizenry. Bearing this in mind, it is pathetic and shameful that the need-blind policy has been removed for international students. …

If the college decided to remove need-blind admission for women, everyone would be up in arms about it, and it would be an outrage, yet it’s fine when we do it to international students. This is the minority group on campus whose voice is probably heard least, and the College took advantage of that in removing this policy for them. …

Claiming Williams is supposed to be about a commitment to understand others and treat them equally, but the administration’s commitment is really not that strong. Rather, it is not strong enough to to be saved from budget cuts. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Amherst should be lauded for their true commitments.


1) I could understand if Williams decided to maintain need-blind admissions for everyone. This would be expensive, but cuts could be made elsewhere. I could understand if Williams decided to eliminate need-blind admissions for everyone. This might hurt applications and enrollment decisions, but there is a financial crisis. What I can’t understand is how/why Williams can treat international and domestic students differently when it comes to need-blind. Can someone explain it to me?

2) Now, whatever explanations one offers, could they not also apply to other groupings of students? Because the competition is so fierce for African-American students, the College could stay need-blind for them but not for white students. Because sports are so important at Williams, the College could stay need-blind for athletes but not for non-athletes. Because alumni have, as a group, contributed so much to Williams, the College should stay need-blind for legacies but not for non-legacies.

Once Williams discriminates on basis X, what is the reasoning that precludes it from discriminating on basis Y or Z? The (temporary?) preferences of the current Administration is a lousy reason.

3) In the past, I have argued against the quota for international students. Reasonable Ephs can and do disagree with that view. For example, it is plausible to believe that a Williams without the quota would become 50% international and that this would lead many desirable US students not to come to Williams. Yet the case of need-blind versus need-aware is fairly different. Either way, Williams will be 8% international. Why would one use a different need standard for US versus domestic students?

4) I don’t know the history as well as I should, but the most relevant historical comparison is with the discrimination against Jews by elite colleges 75 years ago. I would not be surprised (citations welcome!), if colleges then made financial aid awards on the basis fn the applicant’s religion. “After all,” the thinking would have gone, “Williams was founded by Christians as a school for Christians with an emphasis on teaching the Christian gospel. Shouldn’t our limited resources be focused on Christian students? Jews should be treated differently.”

How does Wagner’s decision differ from such thinking?

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