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The University will not trade financial aid information with 22 other colleges and universities this year, possibly indicating the first sign of a settlement in a 15-month Justice Department probe. The University has met annually with Ivy League and other elite private institutions for decades to discuss financial-aid packages for students applying to more than one school in the group. The institutions, called the New England Overlap Group, say they meet so students can make a decision on which school to attend on factors other than financial-aid packages. But a Justice Department investigation of the schools for possible violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by fixing tuition and financial-aid packages has prompted the schools to cancel the meeting. The meeting had been scheduled for the end of this month at Wellesley College. Respresentatives of the institutions maintain they were not asked by the Justice Department to suspend the meetings and insisted that the practice of comparing financial information between students is legal. "We believe there are benefits [to holding the meeting]," University General Counsel Shelley Green said yesterday. "It's a fair way to determine students' need and allocate financial aid . . . but in light that this investigation was continuing, we thought it was best to suspend it for a year." Green would not speculate on how prospective students' financial-aid packages would be affected by the cancellation. Student Financial Services Director William Schilling was not available for comment. But Bryn Mawr Director of Public Information Debra Thomas said yesterday students' aid packages may not be as large this year since institutions would not have the same amount of information about prospective students. Neither Green nor Thomas would comment on how the investigation is going, although rumors of a settlement have been reported since January. The Justice Department has been investigating the University and reportedly 56 other institutions since the fall of 1989. Observers say the focus of the probe has focused on the 23 east coast institutions in the Overlap consortium. The consortium is divided into two groups: one which includes the Ivy League and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and another which includes the seven "sister schools" and seven New England private colleges. The Overlap Group met last year, although a few schools, including Yale University, did not participate in the meeting.

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