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The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell among institutions to be investigated by DOJ

Alice Herman

On Friday, April 9, the Department of Justice (DOJ) notified Grinnell College of a pending investigation into the institution’s handling of early decision admissions. DOJ also sent a notice of investigation to Amherst College, Middlebury College, Pomona College, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University and Williams College.

Over 420 colleges offer early decision admissions, according to College Board. Schools offering early decision allow applicants to apply and hear back about admission before the spring of their senior year in high school. The College Board website describes what is perceived as the riskiest aspect of the program: “Early decision plans are binding — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the College.” 

Among other allegations, the DOJ letter stipulated that colleges submit “records of actions taken or decisions made based in whole or part on information received from another college or university about the identities of accepted students.” Inside Higher Ed, the first publication to obtain the letter and report on it, reported that the DOJ alleged violations of antitrust laws by schools like Grinnell who have been accused of sharing information on early decision applicants with other institutions. 

In an email to The S&B, Joe Bagnoli, dean of admission and financial aid, wrote that to his understanding, “colleges share lists of admitted students to discourage violations of binding ED agreements and to preserve the integrity of the ED process.” By cross-referencing early decision information with other colleges, he explained, schools ensure that “only those who violate their ED agreement (and remain active in other regular decision applicant pools after being offered admission through ED) are penalized in the process of list sharing.” 

The issue of early decision admissions has not typically raised questions about inter-collegiate collusion, instead drawing criticism for the financial inaccessibility of the program. The early decision program at Grinnell College, for example, promises applicants a higher chance of admission — 55 percent are accepted early decision as compared with the 25 percent admitted regular decision — in exchange for applicants’ promise to withdraw applications to other schools upon admission to the College. This means that, according to the College’s website, although early decision applicants are still subject to need-blind admissions, “[t]he binding nature of Early Decision means you will not be able to compare financial aid offers among colleges.” 

The implications of the investigation, on the other hand, remain largely unclear. Grinnell College has publicly confirmed its readiness to comply with the investigation.

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