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Economic diversity lacking at elite private colleges: report

While American universities place a heavy emphasis on many types of diversity, the country’s elite private colleges are markedly un-diverse in one important area: economic status.

At the Daily Gazette, Zachary Matson reports on the findings of the Equality of Opportunity Project, an effort by Stanford and Harvard researchers to assess the state of economic mobility in modern America. At elite private institutions across the United States, student demographics “skew heavily toward affluence.” At Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, for instance, nearly three-quarters of all students come from the top twenty percent of income.

At Union College in Schenectady, meanwhile, around two-thirds of students fall in the top twenty percent. A mere fifteen percent of Union students received Pell grants, “a widely-used proxy for socioeconomic status.”

From the story:

Union and Skidmore, however, aren’t the only private selective colleges that skew heavily toward affluence. Broader income inequality trends in the country are mirrored – some argue exacerbated – at colleges. While complex economics and personal decisions feed the economic diversity challenges, researchers and policymakers are looking for ways to get more students like Guyatte on more private campuses across the country.

Union and Skidmore would both be on the bubble of colleges potentially penalized under proposed bipartisan legislation in Congress, which would require schools to increase the number of Pell grant students.

“I think there are a lot of good reasons for us trying to make our student body more diverse in socioeconomic terms and in other dimensions,” said John Brueggemann, department chairman and professor of sociology at Skidmore. “I wish we were more ambitious about that.”

Some colleges have attempted to close this economic diversity gap through aggressive action: Matson notes that Vassar College in Poughkeepsie recently “more than doubled its financial aid budget and the number of low-income students it served.”

Read the full story.

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