Sixteen top universities conspired to limit student financial aid, new lawsuit claims

Attorneys say schools, including Columbia, Georgetown and MIT have overcharged thousands of financial-aid recipients by "hundreds of millions of dollars."

Sixteen of the most prestigious universities in America are being accused of violating antitrust law by colluding to limit financial aid to student applicants, according to a new class-action lawsuit.

Ivy League schools including Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown and University of Pennsylvania are among the defendants listed in the complaint filed Sunday at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Columbia University Cancels Classes For Two Days After Faculty Member Is Exposed To Coronavirus
A woman walks on the Columbia University campus on March 9, 2020 in New York City.(Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the story on Monday.

The five plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Sia Henry, Michael Maerlander, Brandon Piyevsky, Kara Saffrin and Brittany Tatiana Weaver — are all former students who attended one of the 16 schools named in the complaint.

The plaintiffs say the schools being sued overcharged 170,000 financial-aid recipients by at least “hundreds of millions of dollars” over the past 18-plus years. They’re seeking damages and an end to the shared methodology the named universities use to determine financial need and awarding aid.

College and university presidents from all the schools named are part of the 568 Presidents Group, whose members have agreed to an unfair “set of common standards” for establishing student families’ ability to pay for college, according to the complaint.

“These same defendants, by their own admission, have participated in a price-fixing cartel that is designed to reduce or eliminate financial aid as a locus of competition, and that in fact has artificially inflated the net price of attendance for students receiving financial aid,” the complaint stated.

Rice v Notre Dame
The mural at the Hesburgh Library, commonly known as “Touchdown Jesus” is seen on the campus of Notre Dame University on Aug. 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Duke, Georgetown, MIT, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt are among the nine schools that the lawsuit says maintained admissions systems favoring “the children of wealthy past or potential future donors.”

Caltech, Chicago, Cornell, Emory and Rice are among the seven schools accused of conspiring with the other defendants.

A Yale spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal that the university’s financial aid policy is “100% compliant with all applicable laws.”

A spokeswoman for Caltech told the newspaper that the Pasadena-based school is confident in its aid practices. A spokesman for Brown told the Journal that the lawsuit filed Sunday has no merit.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say more undergraduate students may be eligible to join the class-action lawsuit.

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!
TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!