Diversity. It’s such a wildly thrown around term. When we hear the word, however, we generally think of racial diversity and access of a variety of races to institutions, employment, and other organizations. While there is some relationship between minority groups and poverty, low income does represent an ethnic-neutral demographic. In short, anyone of any race can be defined as low-income.
And when it comes to access to a college education, low-income students are at a disadvantage.
Challenges of Low Income College Students
Low-income students have to work harder to fund their college educations. They have to find aid and loans wherever they can; they often have to work part-time, taking time away from their studies. The dropout rate among low income students is far higher than that of students whose educations are funded by their parents/families. So, what are colleges doing to reverse this trend? Here is a list with reviews of the top 10 schools that are doing the most for their low-income students, as identified by a New York Times College Access report in the fall of 2015.
Criteria for Ranking
In order to establish their ranking of colleges providing the most assistance to low-income students, the Times looked at 5-year graduation rates among these students, the awarding of Pell Grants (funds that do not have to be paid back), and the amount of endowment a school has to provide as additional aid to students identified as low income.
Colleges for Low-Income Students – the Top 10 Players
The University of California system has taken one of the tops spots for good reason. At Irvine, out of a freshman class of 5,549 in 2015, a full 40% received Pell grants, because family income levels were less than $70,000. The average net price of a year for middle-income students is $13 thousand, and the endowment expenditure for aid to lower-income students averages $11 thousand per enroll. On a college access index with 2.0 being the highest, this school ranks 1.91.
This school ranks 1.62 on the access index and is in the 2nd place. Of its 5,063 freshman, 31% are receiving Pell Grants, and the school’s endowment is large – $24 thousand per student. This means that the average student from middle to low income demographics pays $14 thousand per year. A location just 15 miles from Sacramento, moreover, means that there are opportunities for work for students who need to supplement their loans and aid.
The fall of 2015 saw an enrollment of 4,597 freshmen, and 31% of them received Pell Grants, which virtually paid ½ of their tuition costs. The remaining cost for that year was $14 thousand. This meant that the college coughed up about $11 thousand per student, through endowments, to cover additional tuition and fees. On the College Access Index, Santa Barbara ranks 1.61. One of the good things about most schools in California is that the weather reduces some costs of living. Walking and biking are much easier due to the pleasant weather.
One of the cleanest and most well-planned cities in California, this is an amazingly attractive spot for college students. It is also one of the most heavily endowed universities in the California state system. 28% of its 5,218 2015 enrolled freshmen received Pell Grants, and the average cost per year was $13 thousand in tuition and fees. San Diego offers additional financial aid to its low income students, based upon income tests. Its large endowment of $24 thousand per student goes toward this and toward continued improvements – these improvement costs do not have to be passed down to students.
With a $65 thousand endowment per student, this is the most heavily endowed campus of the entire state university system. Again, because endowment money can be spent on facility and curricular improvements, as well as research and development, tuition costs for students can remain low. Of the 5, 684 freshmen who enrolled in 2016, 28% received Pell Grants. An average tuition costs for middle-to-low income students was at $13 thousand/year. It has an access index scale of 1.53.
Finally, we leave California and go to the opposite end of the country. A freshman class of 2015 numbered 6,348, and 245 were eligible for Pell Grants. This brought their net cost per year of tuition and fees to $9 thousand – quite a bargain. Its endowment is a bit lower than most schools above it on the index, and it has less to give to low-income students. However, the low tuition makes up for that. It has a 1.5 college access index.
Back to California we go. Of a freshman class of 4,677, 23% were in receipt of Pell Grants, bringing their net personal cost down to $13 thousand per year. It’s endowment is high – $92 thousand per student – and this allows the school to offer additional financial support to students who fall within low income brackets.
It’s hard to get into Vassar, and as a much smaller private institution, it only admitted a freshman class of 622 in 2015. 22% of that population qualified for Pell Grants, and with an endowment of $352 thousand per student, the school is able to offer substantial financial assistance to needy students. Their out-of-pocket tuition and fees costs thus average a low $12 thousand a year.
Amherst’s access index is 1.33, largely due to is huge endowment – $930 thousand per student. While only 20% of its freshman class of 466 qualified for Pell Grants, the additional assistance low income students receive bring personal costs down to as low as $9 thousand a year. This is a bargain for needy students who can meet the rigorous academic and other requirements for admission.
This is a heavily endowed small private liberal arts college in Claremont, California, with a published tuition of almost $48,000 per year. In 2015, it enrolled 396 freshmen, and 18% of them received Pell Grants. Given that their endowment is about $940 thousand per student, Pomona has plenty to distribute to low-income students who qualify. When they do qualify, their tuition costs can be as low as $9 thousand a year. It has an access index rating of 1.32.
Obviously, plenty of other institutions are making strong efforts to make college more affordable for low-income students. These top ten, however, give at least a picture of what schools can do if they commit to attracting talented students from this demographic.