Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

MIT to Appeal Aid-Policy Ruling University Says Pool Information Helped More Needy Students Gain Admission to Schools

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

MIT to Appeal Aid-Policy Ruling University Says Pool Information Helped More Needy Students Gain Admission to Schools

Article excerpt

THE Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) violated antitrust laws by sharing financial-aid information with other colleges, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The case stems from a three-decades-long cooperation between the Cambridge, Mass., university and eight Ivy League schools, known as the Overlap Group. Members met annually to agree on uniform financial-aid offers to students accepted at more than one institution. Their aim has been to avoid bidding wars over the best students.

Three years ago, the Justice Department launched an investigation into the practice. Without admitting any wrongdoing, all the institutions except MIT settled out of court and agreed to discontinue the cooperation.

During the nonjury trial, MIT argued that its financial-aid program is a noncommercial charity and that its discussions with other schools were intended to spread limited financial-aid funds among the greatest number of needy students.

Rejecting this argument, Judge Louis Bechtle based his decision on the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act, which, he said, is "not as old as MIT" but "for more than a century {has} guided our nation's economic policies."

"MIT's attempt to disassociate the Overlap process from the commercial aspects of higher education is pure sophistry," the decision states.

"No reasonable person could conclude that the Ivy Overlap agreements did not suppress competition."

The ruling could open the door to class-action suits brought by students or former students claiming they were denied a higher level of financial aid because of the Overlap Group practices, says Thomas Arthur, associate dean of the law school at Emory University in Atlanta.

The university will appeal the case, MIT President Charles Vest told the Monitor Wednesday: "We've got a reasonable degree of confidence that we will be able to win this at the appellate level. ... We believe we were not in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and that it was not intended as a law to apply to nonprofit educational or charitable organizations." Case to Supreme Court?

But the court disagreed. "What this court is saying is that as long as the bottom line is that people are paying a fee for service, the antitrust rules are going to apply," Mr. …

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