Income Diversity Lags at Elite Colleges

Important recent studies show that despite increasing numbers of low-income students scoring in the highest percentiles on national tests, the percentage of these students who attend elite colleges has not increased.

According to a recent (August 25, 2014) New York Times article (“Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges“):

A series of federal surveys of selective colleges found virtually no change from the 1990s to 2012 in enrollment of students who are less well off — less than 15 percent by some measures — even though there was a huge increase over that time in the number of such students going to college. Similar studies looking at a narrower range of top wealthy universities back those findings. With race-based affirmative action losing both judicial and public support, many have urged selective colleges to shift more focus to economic diversity.

The article raises complex questions of funding, priorities, and diversity that are worth considering in some detail. Perhaps none is more telling than this, however:

But even top private colleges with similar sticker prices differ enormously in net prices, related to how wealthy they are, so a family can find that an elite education is either dauntingly expensive or surprisingly affordable. In 2011-12, net prices paid by families with incomes under $48,000 averaged less than $4,000 at Harvard, which has the nation’s largest endowment, for example, and more than $27,000 at New York University, according to data compiled by the Department of Education.

None of that complexity is apparent to most consumers.

Author: Andrea Kaston Tange

Andrea Kaston Tange is professor of Victorian literature and culture at Eastern Michigan University, Past President and Treasurer of the Midwest Modern Language Association, and editor of the *Journal of Narrative Theory*.

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