Stanford Misled MBAs On Financial Aid

Stanford University Graduate School of Business. Ethan Baron photo

Stanford Graduate School of Business is publicly admitting that it misled thousands of applicants and donors about the way it distributes fellowship aid and financial assistance to its MBA students. The disclosure came to light as a result of a computer breach that exposed 14 terabytes of highly confidential student data detailing the most recent 5,120 financial aid applications from 2,288 students, spanning a seven-year period from 2008-2009 to 2015-2016.

The information was unearthed by a current MBA student, Adam Allcock, in February of this year from a shared network directory accessible to any student, faculty member or staffer of the business school. In the same month, on Feb. 23, the student reported the breach to Jack Edwards, director of financial aid, and the records were removed within an hour of his meeting with Edwards.

Allcock, however, says he spent 1,500 hours analyzing the data and compiling an 88-page report on it. His conclusion: “The GSB secretly ranks students as to how valuable (or replaceable) they were seen, and awarded financial aid on that basis. Not only has the GSB also been systematically discriminating by gender, international status and more while lying to their faces for the last 10 to ~25 years.”

DISCLOSURES SUGGEST AN ADMISSIONS STRATEGY THAT LEADS TO HIGH STARTING MBA COMP

Stanford GSB Dean Jonathan Levin

Allcock found that Stanford had routinely granted fellowship money to students without regard to their financial needs, often favoring admits who were female and those from the financial sector, even though many had more savings than students who received no scholarship help or less financial support. His analysis also found what he termed “systemic biases against international students…This is inconsistent with a need-based financial aid system,” he wrote in the report.

It’s hardly surprising that Stanford would funnel more scholarship dollars to women and domestic applicants. Business schools have been encouraging more women to apply to MBA programs and have largely used scholarship grants to increase female enrollment. Domestic candidates for full-time MBA experiences have been down for several years across the board so it would make sense for a school, even Stanford, to dangle higher fellowship awards to those admits to get the best of them to go to Stanford. Most elite business schools, on the other hand, have more international applicants than places for them in their enrolled classes.

Allcock’s discovery that more money is being used by Stanford to entice the best students with financial backgrounds suggests an admissions strategy that helps the school achieve the highest starting compensation packages of any MBA program in the world. That is largely because prior work experience in finance is generally required to land jobs in the most lucrative finance fields in private equity, venture capital and hedge funds. Stanford  sends a higher percentage of its MBAs into higher paying PE and VC jobs than Wharton, Chicago Booth, Columbia, or Harvard. Last year the median pay for the 12% of the students that went into private equity was a class-high $177,500, well above the overall median of $136,000. Venture capital firms, which hired 7% of last year’s Stanford crop, paid median starting salaries of $167,500.

DEAN CONCEDES SCHOOL PROVIDES NON-FINANCIAL NEED SUPPORT DESPITE CLAIMS TO CONTRARY

The bigger surprise is that Stanford has long claimed it only provides need-based financial need when that is clearly not true.  Allcock is an international MBA student who came to Stanford in 2016 from the United Kingdom where he had been the founder of two startups, including a consulting firm for manufacturing companies, according to his LinkedIn profile. Though he is a beneficiary of financial aid at Stanford, Allcock has maxed out on student loans to finance his education, according to a letter he sent to students.

The existence of the report—leaked to Poets&Quants and apparently circulating among students on campus—was made public nearly two weeks ago by Stanford GSB Dean Jon Levin who conceded that the school had failed to come clean on how it distributes financial awards to students and acknowledged the breach of confidential student data.

In a statement to the GSB community issued at 6:39 p.m. on a Friday, Nov. 17, GSB Dean Jon Levin said the data has been “improperly stored in a shared folder that was accessible to all GSB faculty, staff and students. The records were anonymized and did not include names; however, they included income and asset information, and information on prior employment.”

DEAN PLEDGES TO BE ‘SIGNIFICANTLY MORE TRANSPARENT’ ON FINANCIAL AID AWARDS

Though the school has insisted that it does not grant fellowship awards on the basis of merit, Dean Levin wrote that the school “has offered additional fellowship awards to candidates whose biographies make them particularly compelling and competitive in trying to attract a diverse class.”

He promised that the school would be “significantly more transparent about the principles and objectives being applied in making financial aid awards, and about how different awards are made. We are committed to working on this for the current admissions cycle.”

Scholarship awards have become an important competitive weapon for business schools to win over highly desired applicants. In recent years, there has been an arm’s race of sorts for scholarships and Stanford has been among the most generous. In any given year, the school will hand out more than $16 million in fellowship awards, an amount that represented a 31% discount on its published tuition rates. Slightly more than half of Stanford MBA students receive fellowship support, with the average grant at roughly $36,000.

‘SCHOLARSHIPS COULD BE THREE TIMES HIGHER FOR STUDENTS WITH IDENTICAL FINANCIAL NEED’

But through the years, Stanford has insisted that it only awards scholarship money on the basis of financial need—not merit. Most of its peer schools, with the exception of Harvard Business School, make no such claim. More often than not, they dole out scholarship dollars to increase the quality and diversity of a class, with a good deal of money going to candidates with high GMAT scores.

When Allcock went through the data, matching the internal records with the profiles of students on LinkedIn, he was astonished by what he found. “GSB fellowships were only in part determined by a student’s financial need despite publicly repeated claims to the contrary,” he wrote. “The GSB has misrepresented and advertised its financial aid system to the detriment of students who make tangible financial decisions on the basis of these representations. Students with identical financial situations receive vastly different GSB fellowships awards and without any knowledge can graduate with up to an additional $80,000 of debt…”

When Allcock met with financial aid director Edwards, he says that Edwards told him that the minimum base loan at Stanford was $28,500 and the maximum fellowship award was $35,000. But Allcock had discovered in the data he reviewed that the school had given at least 53 awards to 32 students for more than $75,000 a year. Roughly 230 students had received fellowship grants that represented full rides: full tuition or full tuition plus fees. The report claims that scholarships could be three times larger for students with identical financial needs.

  • jimmby43

    Hugh culture issue. Two scandals? Which two are you counting? Many more than two.

  • jimmby43

    This is the same school that admitted Mathew Martoma after he was expelled from Harvard for lying.

    The same school that had two other grads implicated (though not convicted) in the Galleon insider trading cases (though one did settle with the SEC and agreed to be barred from the securities industry).

    Stanford GSB really needs to clean up their act.

  • Steve Follmer

    How else is Stanford going to catch up to Yale’s endowment then?

  • Steve Follmer

    One wonders what other departments have adopted the practice. Its predicated upon, “if this person has or will make lots of money, they’re a better candidate for donating more” plus also “they are loyal alumni”. The latter is most valid for undergraduates, so that’s where I’d look next. Again also I wonder if this “model” was developed ad hoc, or with formal statistical or machine learning backing. Similar questions should be asked about other universities as well.

  • Steve Follmer

    Heck, I’d like a link to the entire data set on Wikileaks…

  • Steve Follmer

    Answer is: whose graduates make more money.

  • USA Chile Italy Netherlands

    I’m an alum from one of those “top 10-15” MBAs that many commenters criticize and make fun of here. Before my time, some students at my school were caught cheating. They were expelled. Then when I was there, I saw a highly ethical behavior from both the students and the school. Also while I was there, a friend told me that a friend of hers who was doing her MBA at Stanford had just told her that several of her classmates were caught cheating on an ethics test (yes, ethics!) and nothing happened to them. What would you prefer, a lower ranked -yet excellent-, highly ethical school, or a guaranteed over $150,000 job from somewhere with this repeated unethical behavior?

  • Tominkansas

    My goodness, what a perfectly childish reply. Casting every conceivable aspersion with zero data and, as Adam shows — remarkable he replied to you, and with class — inaccurately.

    What he did took massive effort AND courage, since it isn’t clear that he couldn’t be prosecuted for using breached private data, not to mention the backlash from GSB alums who might see their precious investments devalued by a few percentage points (but, hey, it’s an annuity and all that, etc.)

    And what YOU did took… what? Rank speculation and a frankly terrible view of human nature?

  • Bill Gunther

    Does anyone have a link or know where to find this report?

  • anon

    That’s fine, if the business school makes it clear that they offer non need-based aid. Stanford explicitly claimed it never did this.

    It’s fine to adopt whatever admission/financial aid policy you want, as long as you don’t lie about it. If Kellogg didn’t lie (and it didn’t–only HBS and GSB hold themselves out as offering only need-based aid)–more power to the guy who takes advantage of his scholarships to go on vacations.

  • Secret Person

    Thanks for exposing this deviousness. Is this report accessible somewhere? And are there other aspects of favoritism aside from females like race or ethnicity?

  • FoShizzle

    Anybody got a link to the report?

  • anon

    I’m not at the GSB, but am at another Stanford graduate school that prides itself on being one of a handful of schools in the discipline that offers no merit aid. It would be disgusting if that were a lie, because Stanford uses that as a selling point (holding itself out as a school that doesn’t “need” to woo candidates with $$).

  • Team

    Okay ☺️

  • Race Vanderdecken

    Well, an behalf of all of us paying full freight to get an MBA, thank you.
    Having to fill out forms for financial aid, submit an endless stream of IRS transcripts, etc. just to find out none of that really matters to the schools angers me.
    It is like some foolish game or joke the rest of us are not in on.
    Good luck being getting a dime if you are an older, displaced worker looking to retrain for a job.

  • Adam Allcock

    No, haha. Don’t feed the trolls.

  • Adam Allcock

    The short version is while it was relatively trivial to see something was up, I couldn’t work out on what basis they _were_ awarding fellowships on, and it was a major piece of the puzzle. This took the bulk of the time. The rest was me searching for every conceivable way I could be wrong or where I might have made a mistake, because I didn’t want to believe the results were true. I couldn’t find it.

  • Team

    Adam, okay. But what inspired you to crank on this so long? I mean opportunity cost is a thing…and I am sure you had significant competing interests while at a school like GSB. At what point in the process did you realize that you were onto something? Was it 3 hours in, or 1000+ hours in? I think this would help us figure out your thought process here…

  • Concerned Parent

    Wait, Touchy Feely screens people for mental issues? I’m confused. Is this actually a thing?

  • Jason

    For the record, you look 10x worse than he does here. Just stop. And if you can take a moment to reflect upon what you’re hoping to get out of an anonymous comment like this, maybe you’ll realize the lessons of interpersonal dynamics should’ve led to a better decision than to post this. True story.

  • 17alum

    He forgot to mention that he wasn’t accepted to Touchy Feely because of mental issues… (true story)

  • Jason

    Adam, as a recent alum who has never met you, I just want to say that I’m proud of you. Proud of the work, proud of the courage. I’m sure people will question your motives, but that doesn’t negate that what you did was expose a venerable institution in a a fairly bold lie. I loved my time at Stanford, and am still proud to be an alum, but you did good here. This deserved to be exposed.

  • Split

    That Stanford favors US candidates, and women, for financial aid is not newsworthy. Everyone knows that.
    However, if it is true that Stanford-or the others- is favoring finance candidates to juice the starting salaries that’s reprehensible. A bias for Wall Street paper shufflers is not what we need from our elite schools.

  • sisiW

    That’s a lot to conclude. The Forbes survey showed current students and alumni are generally happy with their Stanford experience. Also, a person having an affair with another consenting adult sadly happens everywhere, everyday; that’s not indicative of the morality of the institution.

    I do agree that it would have been better for GSB to be like other schools and be more forthcoming about how they award their financial aid. It’s not wrong to award more aid to students you want. It’s wrong to say you only do need based aid. They’ve admitted to this.

  • Adam Allcock

    1. Am I engaged in any legal action? No.
    2. Did I offer to work with the Financial Aid Office to resolve any systemic issues in February? Yes.
    3. Was my subsequent report handed in to the Dean’s Office as a first port of call? Yes.
    4. Did I ask for anything in return? No (and still no.)
    5. Did I make this a public affair? No. Dean Levin sent out the community mailings to all current students, staff, faculty, alumni (with slight delay) as well as a public statement. Up until that point, I had only distributed paper copies of the final report; two to the Dean’s office, two to the Stanford Privacy Office (on request) and two to senior faculty.

    I doubt you are a GSB alum because if you were, you’d already know the above and know how to contact me.

  • Psycho Analyzer

    Hey Adam,

    I’m trying to understand why you chose to resort to a more public avenue is disclosing your findings.

    Being an alum, I’m sure that you had to make a judgement call knowing full-well that it would hurt the reputation of your own alma mater… all while personally risking the backlash and reprisal from the GSB community writ large.

    Using a bit of logic and cost-benefit rationale, it appears that perhaps the huge potential legal reward at the end of the rainbow is your central motivation. You could argue that you’re just upholding the same righteousness that you included in your application essay. It’s the “right thing to do” – but can it be that simple?

    A) you are admittedly bitter about the lack of near term employment opportunities while attending school and you have massive debt.
    B) you are truly bitter about your non-international friends’ spending habits and lavish trips given that you’re “cash poor.”

    From these points, I think we found the root cause of what led you down this rabbit hole in the first place, against all behavioral norms… 1,500+ hours of manic analysis while trapped in your room unable to go on that Spring Break to Aruba.

    But, if you ask me, it appears that you’re now abandoning the GSB card knowing that the real short-term prize (or the fruits of your “ah hah”-moment labor) is knowing that a) you get 15 seconds of fame, b) GSB can settle with you personally for a large sum of money (hence your reference that GSB could be liable for $110M in legal damages), and c) maybe you can have both of those things while also convincing your peers publicly via P&Q and otherwise that you’re just “doing it for the betterment of the school for a righteous cause” – making it a win-win-win for you.

    Your behavior here is more interesting here than the story itself to be honest, and now the mic is yours…since that’s what you wanted when going public in this fashion, right?

    I think it’s pretty obvious and clear… but maybe you can clarify why you went rogue. I have to hand it to you…you did it. Your late-night epiphany a year ago is finally materializing for you isn’t it?

    Thanks.

  • Adam Allcock

    Admissions is advertised as ‘need blind’ and you don’t apply for financial aid until after admissions. However, we are asked to provide our salaries at every point in our career as part of the admissions process.

  • They all do this…

    I totally agree with that. I just wanted to share my experience with HBS on this issue as well. I actually ended up choosing HBS, and I’m a proud alum, but I know they do the exact same thing (even if they don’t claim to). The war for talent is strong, even between the top two.

  • Hexagon

    Kudos to Allcock for his comprehensive financial aid analysis and bringing this irregularity to the public’s attention. His conclusion confirms many applicant’s thinking that most B-Schools pour more $ into women and domestic students. Male internationals = no$. The dreaded post MBA salary metric plays a huge role in rankings. Disturbing that GSB misleads students that it only award need based financial aid. I hope the financial aid process will be more transparent and leads to changes. Even if driven by students’ lobbying or fear of class action law suit.

  • morii

    Yes, but the point is that the GSB made claims that they DON’T do this… The article states that most other schools (with the exception of Harvard) don’t make the same claims. The scandal is more about the fact that they deliberately misled students instead of being transparent about it.

  • GSBusted

    How many scandals for the GSB? Like cockroaches… if you see one there are millions. If you see two?

    It seems like there is a huge culture issue at this school.

  • amir g

    I always wondered if an applicant’s finances affect their chances of admission even before financial aid is discussed. Does anyone know if your ability to pay full tuition is a factor in admission? Do people who don’t ask for financial aid have a better chance?

  • MBA-Watch

    Stanford GSB is known to have a horrible discriminating practices and culture, in almost all its activities, admissions, financial aids, scandals here and there..we all remember its dean and his affairs with one of his professors.. This is a terrible place to be. They only ride the success of silicon valley ventures, use its mother university computer science incredible achievements to mislead naive future students..It lacks the morals and high standards of the east coast strong and pure american institutions..

  • They all do this…

    They all do this. I was admitted to HBS and GSB several years ago. GSB was very generous and HBS was not. When I showed HBS my GSB numbers, somehow my fellowship with HBS magically nearly doubled. I think every program does this — GSB just got caught.

  • Not Surprising

    My impression is that discretionary (i.e., non need-based) decisions are made across business schools when it comes to granting financial aid to its students. For example, when I was at Kellogg, a classmate from LatAm who had worked all his life at an investment bank was awarded with the Austin Scholarship (50% of tuition at the time) and used the money to go on vacations with his wife to South Africa.