The past year’s headlines tell us that Yale is making strides in increasing accessibility for low-income students — President Salovey announced a series of recruitment initiatives after meeting with the White House in January, the admissions office sent a postcard advertising financial aid policies to low-income students and the Freshman Scholars at Yale summer program was brought back for a second year.
Still, a New York Times analysis of the country’s most economically diverse top colleges released on Sept. 8 indicates Yale is behind its peer institutions on accessibility. The Times ranked colleges based on an index that took into account multiple factors, including the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, the average cost for low to middle income students and endowment per student. Even though Yale’s endowment per student was second only to Princeton, we ranked much lower on overall accessibility, behind the entire Ivy League, Stanford and MIT.
If Yale wants to keep up with its peer institutions on low-income accessibility, the University must continue making changes.
To be clear, the percentage of students on Pell Grants is by no means a perfect measure of economic diversity. To receive these grants, students must be American citizens or permanent residents, meaning that the percentage of eligible Yale students receiving Pell Grants is slightly higher than the figure reported by the Times. (Of course, many of the institutions with higher percentages of students receiving Pell Grants also boast large, ineligible international populations.) Looking solely at Pell Grants also does not allow for examination of socioeconomic diversity among those families earning just above the income cutoff for grant eligibility. Still, Pell Grants seem to be the best available metric by which to evaluate such a large number of colleges.
According to the Times, 17 percent of students at Harvard, MIT and Brown are receiving
Pell Grants. This figure drops to 16 percent at Columbia, Penn and Cornell, 15 percent at Stanford and 13 percent at Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale. Yale, however, ranked lower overall because its average cost for low to middle income students is $7,700 while Dartmouth and Princeton’s costs are $4,900 and $5,400, respectively.
Something important to keep in mind with all of these statistics is that none of the schools on the list come close to replicating actual American income distribution in their populations. The college with the highest percentage of Pell Grant recipients, Susquehanna University, only comes in at 25 percent. Yale can do better on increasing its economic diversity, and so can many colleges in this country.
But if Yale wants to demonstrate its loudly voiced commitment to expanding accessibility for low-income students, the University needs to start acting more aggressively to do so. According to Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions, applications from low-income students grew at three times the rate of overall applications for the Class of 2018. Still, only 14 percent of students in the Class of 2018 are eligible for Pell Grants — which is lower than the percentage at peer institutions. Efforts to economically diversify the student body must come on both the recruitment and admissions fronts.
Members of the Yale Class of 2019 are in the process of submitting their applications right now. Hopefully the admissions office’s decisions will come along with increased economic diversity in the College. We have surpassed our peer institutions on all sorts of college ranking lists; there’s no reason why a low-income accessibility list can’t be added to the collection.
Diana Rosen is a junior in Pierson College. Her columns run on Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.