Emory University was one of 16 universities named in a federal lawsuit that alleged the schools had violated antitrust laws by illegally colluding to manipulate the amount of financial aid granted to students.
(Emory Wheel/Jackson Schneider)

In a recent federal lawsuit, five former college students alleged that 16 major U.S. universities, including Emory, violated antitrust laws by engaging in price-fixing to prevent applicants from receiving equitable financial aid. 

These students assert that members of the 568 Presidents Group, a cohort of 26 universities and colleges that share methodologies for calculating financial aid, illegally colluded by failing to be need-blind in their admissions decisions.  

The group formed as the result of an antitrust exemption passed by Congress that allows universities to share financial aid formulas as long as each university does not consider the “the financial circumstances of the student or the student’s family” during the admissions process. 

As tuition and student debt skyrocket, the alleged collusion demonstrates how low-income and marginalized students have been systematically excluded from higher education. 

Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, the allegations sheds light on the perpetual financial inequalities present in elite higher education. Despite Emory no longer being part of the 568 Presidents Group, the University should rectify the financial losses of former students. Additionally, the named universities should become materially need-blind by fully discounting financial status during admissions, so low-income students have equitable access to education. 

Instead of upholding its stated values of adhering to need-blind admissions, the lawsuit provides evidence of the predatory and deceptive practices affecting students applying to schools in the group. The colleges allegedly persisted in considering applicants’ financial status in various decisions. These decisions were often outside the standard admissions cycle, such as choosing someone from a waitlist based on familial wealth. Consequently, wealthier students who already have access to more educational resources have an even easier pathway to education through wealth rather than merit.

It is long overdue for Congress to demand clearer, stricter and standardized guidelines explaining the need-blind application process and how universities determine aid packages. A prime opportunity will occur later this year when Congress will have to decide whether to renew the antitrust exemption for universities. Such an action would increase transparency by allowing prospective students to fully understand their potential financial aid and their status relative to other students. Financial aid is confusing enough without elite universities colluding to shirk students out of necessary assistance. 

Attending college is supposed to be the “great equalizer” of different economic classes where students receive places at elite institutions due to academic excellence and can improve their financial and social status. Within the U.S. mythos, one of the many stepping stones to attaining the American Dream involves going to college, which serves as an opportunity for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. At college, students are placed on an equal playing field and allowed to determine their career paths and measures of success. However, the alleged actions of 568 Presidents Group suggest access to higher education is based on wealth rather than personal achievement. 

The application process still favors those already in a privileged position. Universities must either be transparent about their use of financial status in admissions decisions or, better yet, remove the practice of inquiring into students’ finances until their admission. Students applying to elite universities should have an equal chance, regardless of income. Anything different harms the integrity of our institution. 

Indeed, Emory must take initiative on their own to rectify any potential wrongs. If the allegations are true, Emory must compensate students with their due financial aid. Any institution engaging in these behaviors should amend their behavior by paying restitution to the students harmed. The damage is done. These universities will never be able to return and give deserving students opportunities to rectify their mistakes. Restricting access to higher education only feeds into the elitist stereotypes of U.S. universities. It is a hypocritical money-making scheme at best, perpetuating inequality and destroying their own reputation.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Rachel Broun, Kyle Chan-Shue, Sophia Ling, Demetrios Mammas, Daniel Matin, Daniela Parra del Riego Valencia, Sara Perez, Sophia Peyser, Ben Thomas, Chaya Tong and Leah Woldai.