April 17, 2024

Economix: Reader Response: Economic Diversity at Colleges

I wanted to reply to a few reader comments about the post on the lack of economic diversity at elite colleges.

Pharrell asks, echoing a questions some others readers had:

Why would a Harvard student from a lower-income family (under $60,000/year) possibly need a Pell Grant, when their tuition is fully paid for by the college?

Harvard fully covers college cost for low-income students after Pell Grants are taken into account. I asked Judith Scott-Clayton, an economist who specializes in higher education and an Economix contributor, for more details, and she replied:

Pell Grants cover the “first dollar” of costs — they do not depend whatsoever on other scholarships received. Even if Harvard waived tuition completely, students would still have substantial living costs which the Pell would cover. Pell is designed as a foundation onto which all other aid is built. And Harvard etc. will definitely make sure that students are claiming all of the other federal, state, private aid that they qualify for before they provide any institutional aid.

Harvard, as any other school, requires students to complete the federal financial-aid application, known as the Fafsa, before they can access institutional aid. So it’s not like these students have a choice to apply for Pell Grant or not.

Next, Andy Schwarz, an economist in San Francisco, wondered on Twitter whether poor students — however intelligent they might be — simply weren’t well enough prepared for top colleges. Some of them, no doubt, are not. But I think there are still a substantial number of well-prepared low-income students who aren’t accepted to top schools or who don’t get enough financial aid.

The low-income students who do attend colleges like Harvard have very high graduation rates. And we know, from the Bowen study I mentioned in the earlier post, that low-income students get no credit in the application process for their background — unlike minorities, athletes and the children of alumni. Together, these two facts suggest that top colleges could admit more qualified low-income students than they do.

Finally, a few readers said I was suggesting that Harvard and other colleges lower the bar for low-income students. But I’m not. I’m instead saying that a poor student who has the same academic credentials — SAT scores and the like — as an upper-middle-class student is in fact more deserving of admission, strictly on the merits. Similarly, when a college admits an upper-middle-class student with a 680 average on standardized tests ahead of a poor student with a 670 average — which is what happens, on average — the college is admitting the less-deserving student.

My article about the University of California discusses this issue in more depth. Also, another reader, Jake in New Jersey, had an excellent response on this issue:

No one is suggesting creating a quota of required low income students. However, colleges need to realize that students from lower incomes miss out on opportunities available to affluent students, for example, foreign programs in China, computer programming classes, or internships at a father or mother’s law / medical practice / wall street firm.

Even just growing up in a family that can afford a subscription to the New York Times gives students the chance to learn about the world around them and improve their vocabulary. A low income student may have worked just as hard, and may even have more potential than an affluent student, but because of this opportunity gap, his or her application is likely to appear less impressive.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c44ae1171648bd3b884053003e0287e1

Speak Your Mind