The Campaign for MIT has been picking up speed like a freight train on a cross-prairie jaunt, with its total rising an impressive $65 million between July 1 and November 30.

That rise, which boosted the campaign total to $1.73 billion, is the second best showing ever for this time period, exceeded only by an exceptionally productive counterpart period in summer-fall 2000.

The progress on meeting the campaign’s $2 billion goal reflects advances in what are, in effect, several subcampaigns. A key example of a campaign within the campaign is the drive to raise undergraduate financial aid.

The overall aid goal is $200 million, and the November 30 total was $111 million. Those figures mean hitting the aid goal by the campaign’s end will be tough — but among those who will be rooting hard for success is Marilee Jones, MIT’s dean of admissions.

“Financial aid is crucial to making MIT work,” says Jones. Having ample aid available, she adds, gives her office the ability to keep finding and admitting some of the brightest students anywhere. That’s because MIT’s scholarship resources mean it can offer needed support to any student who’s accepted no matter how limited his or her family’s finances.

This is called need-blind admissions, and one reason it matters is MIT’s success at finding top students from all walks of life. “Most MIT students are public school graduates, which is different from many of our competitors,” notes Jones. “About a fifth of our students have parents who never even went to college.”

The policy’s value is also underscored by the alternative: giving hefty scholarships to top applicants while making minimal or even no awards to others — including individuals with nearly as much academic star power.

“If you have merit awards,” says Jones, “it creates a caste system. You can have a freshman whose family has remortgaged their home to support their son or daughter, and who’s rooming with someone who doesn’t seem that much more qualified but is getting a free ride.”

That would not only be bad for morale, it would change MIT’s character, she notes, adding that MIT’s meritocratic tradition is what allows students to excel. “All our students are bright, they’re hard-working, they’re ambitious,” she says. “We can’t be saying to some, in effect, that you’re not as worthy as certain of your classmates.”