Vanderbilt University has reached an agreement to settle allegations it conspired with more than a dozen other top-ranked colleges to price-fix its financial aid packages, according to court documents filed this month.
The university is the second institution named in a lawsuit that has moved to settle. A group of former college students sued Vanderbilt and 16 other colleges early last year, alleging the institutions illegally coordinated on their financial aid formulas, driving up college costs.
Vanderbilt did not answer a question Thursday about the terms of the settlement.
“Though we believe the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit, we have reached a settlement in the best interest of our continuing focus on providing talented scholars from all social, cultural, and economic backgrounds one of the world’s best undergraduate educations and the opportunity to graduate debt-free,” the university said in an emailed statement.
In court documents last week, the private university in Nashville said it would soon commit the deal to writing in a long-form settlement agreement.
The University of Chicago settled the lawsuit’s allegations against it earlier this year to the tune of $13.5 million. The private college also said it would share data about its financial aid practices and coordinate a witness interview with its former college aid director.
At the time, the plaintiff’s legal team said they would use this information to build the case against the other colleges.
All of the colleges named in the lawsuit once belonged to the now-defunct 568 Presidents Group, whose members collaborated on their financial aid systems. The group was named after a section of a federal statute that previously allowed colleges to work together on their financial aid formulas — but only if they practiced need-blind admissions.
The exemption expired in September 2022, and the 568 Presidents Group disbanded shortly afterward.
Colleges practicing need-blind admissions say they don’t consider applicants’ ability to pay when deciding who to accept. However, the lawsuit accused the colleges of not having totally need-blind financial aid systems, including by favoring applicants connected to potential donors.
Other prominent colleges named in the lawsuit include Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northwestern University.
Eric Cramer, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.