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Why Deerfield Isn’t Need-Blind
Anna Fu '20 Associate Editor
May 23, 2018

Former Head of School Frank L. Boyden said over a century ago, “Pay what you can,” when addressing parents of prospective Deerfield students. Ever since Mr. Boyden’s tenure as Head of School, the administration has been committed to making a Deerfield education affordable for as many as possible.

Deerfield uses its $10 million financial aid budget to supplement this goal. However, despite the seemingly large budget, the admissions process still remains far from being completely “need-blind.” Thus, applicants requesting financial aid are not placed in the same applicant pool as those who would be able to afford the entire Deerfield tuition.

Credit Madeline Lee

Director of Financial Aid Melissa Persons explained, “We’re not need-blind because we have a set budget.” The money available to support prospective students and families is large but not enough for Deerfield to admit all qualified financial aid applicants.

For the 2018-2019 school year, the total cost of attending Deerfield as a boarding or a day student will be $61,840 and $44,735 respectively.  Deerfield currently sustains a $10 million budget to aid students who cann ot afford those prices.

33 percent of Deerfield’s student body received some form of financial support from the Academy during the 2017-2018 school year. In the upcoming year, this will rise to 36 percent.

In comparison, these numbers are far less than those of Phillips Exeter Academy, another independent secondary school in New England.

Exeter currently has a tuition of $54,171 for boarding students and $42,508 for day students, already significantly lower than Deerfield. The school has a $22 million financial aid budget and 50% of their 1,079 students receive some form of financial aid. Exeter claims to have a need-blind admissions policy.

However, the issue is far more complex than these numbers make it seem. Firstly, the label of ‘need-blind’ technically means that if the top students applying to an institution all need financial aid, the school should have the ability to grant them full scholarships.

“No school,” as Dr. Margarita Curtis explained, “can currently provide a full scholarship to every student. Even schools that are now ‘need-blind,’ like Exeter and Andover in the Eight Schools Association, still have close to 50% of their students paying tuition.”

Furthermore, it must be taken into consideration that Andover and Exeter, independent high schools with “need-blind” admissions, have been building their endowments for a much longer period of time than Deerfield.

As Dr. Curtis explained that,even though all three schools were founded in the late 1700s, Deerfield did not gain notoriety as a boarding school until the Boyden era, and at the end of his tenure in 1968, Deerfield’s endowment was still minuscule compared to those of other distinguished academies.

However, Dr. Curtis explained that within just 50 years, Deerfield has been able to increase its endowment size significantly and rise up to fourth place on an endowment-per-student basis in the Eight Schools Association.

The Board still aims to close the gap between Deerfield’s current financial aid budget and being completely “need-blind.”

As Dr. Curtis attested, “Ensuring that the worthiest kids have accessibility to Deerfield, and attracting the best and the brightest to the Academy is very important to [the Board of Trustees].”

Just within Dr. Curtis’ tenure, the school has been able to raise its endowment significantly, in part due to the highly successful ‘Imagine Deerfield’ capital campaign, which aimed to fundraise $200 million in five years. The campaign concluded in June 2015, a year ahead of time and 20% over goal, according to Dr. Curtis.

Dr. Curtis also confirmed that a notable portion of the $252 million raised in those four years was allocated towards the financial aid budget. The funds were also directed to support Deerfield’s professional development budget, curricular and co-curricular programs, and a series of major facilities renovations.

When making financial decisions, the Board of Trustees, according to Dr. Curtis, takes into consideration four different factors: rate of tuition growth, financial aid, scope and breadth of the school’s program, and endowment growth. They need to help maintain and foster each metric without jeopardizing another.

Therefore, the decision of how much money will be allocated towards supporting students financially also includes the decision of how much money is allotted to areas like compensation for faculty and staff, facilities, maintaining low tuition growth, and sustaining programs like athletic teams, the arts and a wide variety of clubs and student activities, as explained by Dr. Curtis.

When discussing the ‘Imagine Deerfield’ campaign and its achievements, Dr. Curtis said, “We’ve been ambitious regarding our financial aid goals without neglecting other institutional needs.”

However, the reality still remains that Deerfield still does not have a “need-blind” admissions policy.

Chair of the Endowment Committee Brian Simmons, who is also the incoming President of the Board of Trustees, stated, “Deerfield, at this point in time, does not have an endowment large enough to be completely need-blind. … It would take a substantial effort around raising additional endowment funds for us to be able to accomplish that.”