MIT Settlement Won't Save Overlap

Did the government save Overlap only to kill it?

After a two-year battle with MIT, the Justice Department decided last December to permit colleges to share some financial aid--date a.k.a. "Overlap"

But the terms of the government's settlement with MIT, which had fought attempts at sanctions for previous aid sharing, might have effectively killed any possibility for true exchange of information.

The settlement, announced December 22, 1993, ended more than two years of litigation in an antitrust suit which charged MIT with joining the eight Ivy League schools to fix the prices of college educations.

Harvard and the other Ivy League schools decided in 1991 not to fight the government. They signed a "consent decree" under which they agreed to stop the joint setting of financial aid awards MIT, however, decided to contest the government's decision.

The result was hailed by MIT as a victory in its fight to allow the university once again to share financial aid information with the eight schools of the Ivy League, as was done from 1958 to 1991.

But in the months following the agreement, the leaders of several Ivy League institutions have said the settlement is probably not enough to allow the return of Overlap.

"From a practical point of view very few institution will find that they will be able to commit to this because they simply can't afford it economically," says President Neil L. Rudenstine. "It's possible that there would not be any group sharing infomation."

The new settlement permits colleges to exchange information about financial aid awards but only among schools which guarantee need-blind admission and full need-based aid. The amount individual families will be expected to pay can no longer be jointly determined.

For students, the absence of Overlap means competition in financial aid awards. Some say they like the idea of shopping for the best value; others say the discrepancies in aid awards serve only to complicate and confuse the process of deciding which colleges to attend.

Officials say they agree with Rudenstine that the settlement's guidelines will severely limit the number of schools who will join any new overlap group.

A Yale spokesperson says the New Haven university is also troubled by the limits of the agreement.

"We have concerns about the restrictions. Not as they pertain to us. because they don't really pertain to us, but as they pertain to other institutions," says Gary G. Fryer Yale director of public affairs and special assistant to the president "The restrictions are onerous."

Cornell spokesperson Sam R. Segal says his school is especially reluctant to enter into an agreement with the Justice Department--in part because it is reconsidering its practice of full need-based financial aid due to financial pressures.

"We'd have to make a commitment to stay that way. It's something that unrealistic to ask colleges to do Segal says It's a precarious situation particularly for school that have a smaller endowment. And Cornell's is relatively small per student."

Although all of the lvy League schools currently have policies of need- blind admissions and fullneed based aid, many of the liberal arts colleges which used to be involved in the Overlap Group, which had 23 members, have abandoned such policies.

"For the overwhelming majority of American colleges and universities, fulfilling these twin pledges--however desirable in theory--is in fact an economic impossibility,'' Rudenstine says.

Outgoing Provost Jerry R. Green says he agrees with Rudenstine.

"As the settlement is written...it is, in fact, very difficult for schools to sign an azgreement, " Green says. "Harvard could, a number of other universities could, but many universities comparable to Harvard many of the original members of the Overlap Group, could not sign anything."

"There are plenty of schools outside the original Overlap Group who would have joined an agreement like the original Overlap agreement who won't be able to."