Top Schools Aim for Economic Diversity
> 5/29/2007 10:50:32 AM

In an ideal America, each child with the innate intelligence, work ethics, and desire required to achieve would stand an equal chance of admission to Harvard or Princeton, regardless of his or her location, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. In signing the 1965 Higher Education Act, Lyndon Johnston stated his hope that "a high school student anywhere in this great land of ours can apply to any college or university in any of the fifty states and not be turned away because his family is poor." While no school would openly cite "poverty" as a reason for rejecting certain applicants, Johnston's lofty ideal is very obviously not the reality in today's United States: a study involving nearly 150 of our top schools found that three-fourths of their collective student body came from the highest quarter of the economic scale, with 3% from the lowest group and only one in ten representing the bottom half. But many of our country's top universities are making increased efforts to attract those in the minority, based not on their skin color but their economic roots. (The relative diversity of different schools can be gauged with a convenient web tool.)

The percentage of low-income students attending college has, thankfully, risen over the last decade, but it has not gained ground on the numbers representing higher income brackets, which have accelerated at equal or higher rates. And while assistance programs like the Pell Grants go overwhelmingly to low-income students, their respective marketplace value has dropped considerably as the federal government opts not to increase their benefits to mirror inflation and the declining value of the dollar. Today, a Pell Grant covers less than 15% of tuition at most American schools. Some school officials make the convincing argument that standardized test scores and the high schools which applicants attended must be considered in light of their origins, because relative performance is almost immeasurably influenced by circumstance and upbringing. Low-income students, especially those whose parents did not attend college, are considerably less likely to apply altogether, and far fewer of them graduate once they've been accepted. If they'd been raised under different circumstances, the argument goes, their standardized test scores and high school transcripts would reflect this fact. In addition to uneven admissions practices, the student loan industry, which already applies almost strictly to students from families in the middle and upper-class range, is currently mired in a controversy that makes the schools involved look more like publicly traded companies perpetrating insider trading deals by conspiring to attract the most valuable students through questionable means while lending no greater influence to those in the lower economic brackets.

Despite gripes about the unbalanced influence of affirmative action, a landmark 1998 study by the once-time president of Princeton and current president of Harvard found that, of the minority students attending 28 select universities across the country, an overwhelming majority were at least middle class, most of them falling into the upper-middle-class bracket. The white students at the same schools were, on average, even wealthier. The families of half the students at some of the most expensive schools in the country pay their way without financial assistance of any kind, and tuition fees alone can approach $50,000 per year. The current effort looks to transcend debates on racial favoritism, but its central goal is to achieve greater representation of the public in the halls of our most revered institutions by considering a wider array of variables. Underprivledged students from all ethnic groups should gain from this development. Some may again believe the trend to be contributing to an uneven playing field, arguing that admissions should be based on comparing the raw numbers offered by academic performance alone. Opponents also claim that admitting more lower-income students will damage the overall performance of the institutions in question as these kids will inevitably be less prepared for college-level courses, but as we've previously explained, the majority of students who score well in high school are truly no better prepared.

In light of the statistics mentioned above (and many more are available at a mouse click), there's no question that educators are aiming in the right direction when they look to offer greater opportunity to those less fortunate but equally ambitious individuals who make up such a large part of our student population. This unfortunately named trend in "economic affirmative action" will, with time, make the college experience a possibilty for more students than ever before. Of equal importance is a comprehensive reform of the country's student loan industry. Loans should be granted to those with the greatest needs while considering performance as a crucial matter of course. If educators and policy-makers drag their feet in bringing about these changes, the gap between rich and poor in the American education sweepstakes will only continue to grow, leaving new generations even further behind.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy