Thursday, December 5, 2013

Are Socioeconomic Diversity Programs at Elite Universities Just For Show?

Aaron Taylor's two recent posts with us call into question the sincerity of some elite universities that profess a commitment to merit based admissions.  His posts suggest a commitment to money. Unfortunately, one of the nation's very finest public universities is heading toward that camp.  The University of Virginia is one of the least socioeconomically diverse colleges in the country. According to the study in LaJuana's post this morning, only the University of Delaware has a smaller percentage of students attending on Pell Grants.  To UVA's credit, it, like the Stanfords of the world, previously adopted an extremely generous financial aid package for low-income students, whereby it would cover the full financial need of students whose families fell below 200% of the poverty line.  Announcements of these sorts almost always gain universities praise on NPR. In fact, I recall a slew of these stories in recent years ago, as the elites sought to outdo one another.  

As critics often point out, however, these programs often have little effect on these universities because students from that income bracket rarely gain admission to these top universities.  In other words, it is not a diversity in admissions program, but rather financial aid premised on making it through the admissions process.  

The problem for UVA is that its program worked too well.  Low-income students have gained admission and taken the university up on its offer. "The proportion of students eligible for need-based aid under the program has grown from 24 percent to 33 percent. And the share of the student body that is low income has risen from 6.5 percent to 8.9 percent."  UVA's response: end its no-loan policy for low-income students next year.  The most flattering version of this story is that UVA is a victim of its own success and now cannot afford the program.  Given the wealth of UVA and its overall budget, Ed Central doubts this.  The least flattering version is that UVA was more interested in the public relations benefits of the program than diversity.

Higher education, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink


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