An elite university “cartel” that includes Northwestern, the University of Chicago and Notre Dame has conspired to restrict financial aid to needy students, a class action lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago.
The three Chicago-area schools were sued alongside colleges such as MIT, Duke, and Yale as part of a group of top universities that shared student information and put in place common rules for determine the financial needs of students. Such information sharing is permitted if the schools concerned agree to exclusively “no need” admission policies – meaning that students are admitted solely on the basis of their merits, not their family finances.
But the lawsuit cites public statements from officials at Northwestern and Notre Dame and other schools in the organization, called the 568 Presidents Group, that show schools are examining whether potential students can pay full freight for tuition. , and especially if their parents are rich. or influential enough to make large donations.
The University of Chicago, which dropped out of Group 568 in 2014, “may or may not” have gone through admission practices that are purely blind to need, but should have known that other universities in the group were not, the trial.
“These elite institutions occupy a privileged and important place in American society,” said the lawsuit.
“And yet these same defendants, by their own admission, participated in a price-fixing cartel that seeks to reduce or eliminate financial aid as a place of competition, and which in fact artificially inflated the net price. attendance of students receiving financial aid. “
The lawsuit seeks payments for a group of 170,000 students who have attended schools and received financial aid since 2003, when Group 568 created their formula for determining financial need. Two former Northwestern students are among the five complainants named.
“As keepers of the American dream, schools have placed the burden of the extra costs on low- and middle-income families who struggle to afford the cost of a college education,” said Elizabeth Fegan, a Chicago-based lawyer who does part of the legal team for complainants. “We will fight to recover these overbills for students and their families. “
Officials from Notre Dame, Northwestern and the University of Chicago all declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit cites a 2019 article from the Daily Northwestern, the school’s student newspaper, in which university president Morton Schapiro told reporters he had personally reviewed several hundred admissions applications, including some were “associated with wealthy donors”. In a 2016 magazine article, a former admissions official at Notre Dame said that “if someone donated $ 15 million, their children would receive” special interest “during the process. admission to Notre-Dame “.
These defendant universities illegally agreed to withdraw financial aid granted to admitted students.
Undergraduate tuition at Northwestern was over $ 58,000 for the 2021-2022 academic year, with the total cost of attendance, including room and meals, amounting to nearly $ 80,000. $ per year. The total cost for a year at the University of Chicago or Notre Dame was over $ 80,000. Each school has an endowment of $ 11 billion or more.