A lawsuit filed Sunday claims that Brown and 15 other schools, including Yale, Duke University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, violated federal antitrust laws by collaborating on their financial aid policies when some members did not maintain the need-blind admissions required for a legal antitrust exemption. This, the suit states, resulted in inflated prices of attendance for students receiving financial aid.
The University is not directly accused of breaking a need-blind admissions policy in the class-action suit, filed by firms representing five former students from Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Duke universities. Still, the suit claims that by being a member of a consortium of schools standardizing financial aid practices — the 568 Presidents Group — the University conspired with other schools that did not maintain truly need-blind admissions, violating Section 568 of the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994.
Under the Improving America’s Schools Act, schools are allowed to collaborate on the creation of financial aid calculation methodologies so long as they do not weigh students’ financial needs when making admissions decisions. This violation of need-blind admissions by certain member schools would render any set of financial aid policies created by the group illegal and the schools participatory in anti-competitive price-fixing, the lawsuit claims.
“The complaint against Brown has no merit and Brown is prepared to mount a strong effort to make this clear,” University spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. “Brown is fully committed to making admission decisions for U.S. undergraduate applicants independent of ability to pay tuition, and we meet the full demonstrated financial need of those students who matriculate.”
The University, he added, has not been officially served with the suit and is only aware of it from media reports. If served with the complaint, the University will “conduct a full review and respond as appropriate through the legal process,” Clark wrote.
Dean of Admission Logan Powell referred The Herald to Clark for comment. Dean of Financial Aid James Tilton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the 568 Presidents Group, Section 568 of the Improving America’s Schools Act grants colleges and universities an antitrust exemption to collaborate on common approaches to issuing need-based, non-federal student aid as long as they maintain need-blind admissions for students. The exemption limits schools from discussing individual financial aid packages but allows them to use “common principles of analysis for determining the need of students.”
Nine other institutions — Columbia, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Northwestern, Penn, MIT, Vanderbilt, the University of Notre Dame University and Duke — allegedly did not maintain need-blind admission practices. Those schools allegedly favored the children of donors and potential donors, or prioritized wealthier students in the waitlist process. Those practices, the suit claims, disqualified them from the 568 exemption and the ability to use common financial aid practices. Their collaboration, then, would be in violation of federal antitrust laws.
The suit claims the seven other schools listed — Brown, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, Cornell, Emory University, Rice University and Yale — were disqualified from the exemption for the duration of time they collaborated with schools who did not maintain need-blind admission practices.
According to the suit, the University joined the 568 Presidents Group in 1998 and in 2004 implemented a standardized method for determining a family’s ability to pay student tuition — the Consensus Methodology — before leaving the group in 2012. The University now utilizes an Institutional Methodology created by the College Board to determine the financial contribution expected of families in paying tuition. As a result, only Brown students enrolled from 2004 to 2012 can join the class-action suit.
“In reality, the 568 Cartel was not, and has never been, composed of ‘need-blind schools’ as that term is defined by the statute,” the suit reads.
The suit, filed in the Northern District of Illinois, requests damages for students who attended each of the institutions while they were members of the group.
Will Kubzansky is a University News editor from Washington, D.C. who oversees the admission & financial aid and staff & student labor beats. In his free time, he plays the guitar and soccer — both poorly.