The University of Chicago has agreed to pay $13.5 million to settle a lawsuit claiming the university and other elite schools considered applicants’ wealth in the admissions process and dissuaded those who displayed financial need.
Five former undergraduate students from Northwestern University, Vanderbilt University and Duke University leveled the lawsuit against 568 Presidents Group, a consortium of 17 colleges and universities that collaborated on financial need formulas and received exemption from U.S. antitrust law by practicing need-blind admissions.
However, the lawsuit accuses 568 of violating the law by conspiring with each other to discover students’ finances, favoring wealthy students and turning away those who would need financial aid upon acceptance, reports Insider. This extended to their waitlist decisions as well.
Additionally, the group limited their financial aid packages and thereby artificially raised students’ tuition burden, the lawsuit alleges. The suit wages institutions overcharged over 170,000 financial aid recipients by at least hundreds of millions of dollars.
The suit called the universities participating in the consortium a “price-fixing cartel” and “gatekeepers of the American dream,” according to The Guardian.
UChicago doesn’t admit any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, they have agreed to pay back its financial aid-awarded students from 2003 until the date of the settlement tuition, room and board expenses not covered by their allotted aid.
“The University believes the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit,” read a statement from the UChicago, according to The Guardian. “We look forward to putting this matter behind us and continuing to focus our efforts on expanding access to a transformative undergraduate education.”
The settlement awaits approval from the Northern District of Illinois’ U.S. District Court, where the plaintiffs filed the suit in January 2022. UChicago agreed to settle the lawsuit in April and had since been in negotiations, according to Reuters.
Where the co-defendants stand on the lawsuit
None of the other co-defendants has agreed to a settlement or admitted any wrongdoing. The other institutions are Brown University, California Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Emory University, Georgetown University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, University of Notre Dame, Rice University, University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University and Yale University.
The 568 President Group formally dissolved in November of last year when Congress declined to renew its antitrust exemption amid the lawsuit.
The lawsuit and the UChicago’s subsequent decision to settle add fuel to the fire to Opportunity Insight’s report on wealthy students, including those in the top 1%, having a far greater chance of being admitted to Ivy Plus institutions than those from humbler backgrounds.