The University's need blind financial aid policy could be in jeopardy if the University loses its legal battle over the Mayor's Scholarships, Acting Executive Vice President John Gould said last night. Under the current need-blind admissions policy, the University accepts students based solely on merit. Financial aid packages including grants, loans and work study jobs are awarded later based on the student's ability to pay. Supporters of the policy have maintained that it allows the University to select a more diverse social and economic pool of students. If Judge Nelson Diaz rules in favor of the University, this policy would be unaffected. The Common Pleas Court trial is supposed to settle a lawsuit filed in October 1991 against the University over the number of scholarships the University is required to distribute annually to Philadelphia students. The lawsuit, filed by labor unions, student groups and several individuals, claims that a 1977 city ordinance requires the University to award 125 scholarships to Philadelphia high school graduates in each University class, for a total of 500 at a time. The University, however, maintains that it is required by the disputed ordinance to provide 125 scholarships at a time in return for rent-free city land. Court testimony from both sides ended last Wednesday. It is unclear when Diaz will make his decision. Gould said that any institution faced with a similar situation would be forced to re-evaluate its financial aid policy. "[If the University loses] we would have to revisit our financial aid policy and make some decisions about what we would be able to do," Gould said. A loss in the courts, requiring the University to fund an additional 375 scholarships, "would affect virtually all institutions like Penn which maintain need blind financial aid and need based financial aid," Gould said. And if the University loses its legal battle over the future of the Mayor's Scholarships, it would be forced to make up to $70 million in back payments. The University would also be required to spend $7.6 million yearly in order to finance the 500 scholarships the plaintiffs contend the University must support. But Thomas Gilhool, the plaintiff's attorney, said yesterday that the University has exaggerated the true cost of funding the additional scholarships. The University could, in effect, avoid spending any extra money if it shifts some of the $33 million in financial aid now used to support non-Philadelphia students, Gilhool said. University General Counsel Shelley Green said yesterday that the University would not shift funding of non-city residents to support the additional 375 students if the Univeristy loses the suit. "The plaintiffs are talking about a complete transformation of the University," Green said, adding that the University will not reapportion its financial aid to compensate for the Mayor's Scholarships. But Green said the University is confident that it has a strong case. The University currently supports 125 Mayor Scholarships valued at almost $1.9 million. An additional 375 scholarships would be worth almost $5.7 million. If the University were to follow Gilhool's prescription, it would need to divert $5.7 million in aid from support for out-of-city students. Assuming the University loses and must fund 500 Mayor's Scholarships, the University would end up spending almost one fourth of its undergraduate financial aid budget on students from Philadelphia. Gilhool said that the analysis is flawed because the University could easily include the additional students without causing a significant increase in costs. Harvard Professor Gary Orfield, an expert on financial aid and the accessibility of higher education for the disadvantaged, agreed last week in his testimony at the Mayor's Scholarship trial. Olfield, testifying for PILCOP, said "you don't have to build a new library for that many new students." He added that the University will receive approximately $4,000 per student in the form of government aid. With recent budget constraints, the future of the need-blind policy has been questioned by some observers. But President Sheldon Hackney has maintained that the University has no current plans to alter the policy.Comments powered by Disqus
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