Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Jonathan Levin today (Dec. 7) conceded that the school’s financial aid policies have failed to meet the expectations of students and alumni donors and pledged that the school would be more transparent about how it awards on the more than $16 million it annually provides in scholarship support to MBA students.
“The explanation for how we award aid has not lived up to the ideals our students and alumni expect of us, and I deeply regret it,” said Levin in an email to the GSB community. “When differences in fellowship awards across students are not made clear, it leaves students wondering why they received a particular award, and questioning whether the decision was equitable.
“It is vital that these fellowship awards are underpinned by a transparent and well-understood process that is forthright about how decisions are made and the principles that are used to make them. Here we fell short and we must do better.”
DEAN LEVIN’S THIRD PUBLIC STATEMENT ON THE CONTROVERSY IN THREE WEEKS
Levin made the new comments in the midst of his first major leadership challenge as dean, a role he took over in September of 2016. The dean’s latest public statement–his third in three weeks–follows disclosures that the school had misled thousands of applicants and donors about the way it distributes fellowship aid and financial assistance to its MBA students. While the school has consistently claimed that all of its scholarship dollars only go to students who demonstrate financial need, that turned out to be untrue. The controversy has already claimed one victim, the school’s chief digital officer, who was fired because he failed to notify the dean and university of the data breach when it occurred in February (see Why GSB Dean Jon Levin Fired His Chief Digital Officer).
A current MBA student blew the whistle on the school after accessing confidential financial aid data on the school’s shared network servers. The student, Adam 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 an extensive report he did on the data.
The school’s financial aid polices precede Levin’s deanship, though he has been criticized by the university’s student newspaper for how he has handled the controversy. The Stanford Daily slammed Levin for what it called his tiptoeing around the school’s failure to acknowledge that it has long provided financial support that is not need-based despite claims to the contrary. The editorial, written by Adam M. Behrendt ’19, urged Levin to commend the MBA student who blew the whistle on the financial aid practices and use what has become a significant embarrassment as a teachable example to business school students.
KIRSTEN MOSS WILL TAKE A LEADERSHIP ROLE ON FORTHCOMING CHANGES
In today’s message, Levin acknowledged that the issue has become a much discussed topic at the school. “There also has been extensive and heartfelt discussion on our campus,” Levin wrote. “I have heard from many students about their experience with financial aid, how it has enabled them to come to Stanford GSB, their disappointment with how the award process has been explained and communicated, and their questions and ideas about how best to distribute fellowships among students with demonstrated financial need.”
Dean Levin said that the school’s newly appointed director of admissions and financial aid, Kirsten Moss, who assumed her role in June, will take a leadership role in changing the GSB’s financial aid process. He also announced the following steps:
- First, for this current award cycle, we will describe our awards clearly and accurately. Details for how we will allocate fellowships for this transitional year will appear soon on our financial aid web page, in our financial aid handbook, and in our communications with individual students.
- Second, looking toward a long-term change and with the intention of understanding and learning from past experience, I have asked the University to arrange for an external review of our historical financial aid practices, including how Stanford GSB’s process evolved in relation to other schools.
- Finally, starting in the New Year, we will begin a forward-looking effort to develop an improved financial aid process. We will develop a clear statement of Stanford GSB goals and objectives in allocating financial aid, and a clear description of and rationale for the process on which we settle. This initiative will require input and collaboration, from our students and alumni, from faculty and staff, and from experts in higher education and financial aid.
MORE CHANGES IN FINANCIAL AID POLICIES FORTHCOMING
Levin said the school will likely announced further changes in the near future. “Alongside these immediate steps, you’ll be hearing more from Kirsten in the coming weeks and months and we would like to continue to hear more from you. We are firmly committed to ensuring that awarding financial aid enriches Stanford GSB by broadening our student community, and supporting and enabling our students with financial need. I am personally firmly committed to this goal.
“We now have an opportunity to come together and address an important issue for Stanford GSB, and to make the school stronger for the future. I look forward to working with all of you in partnership.”