A newly published New York Times study evaluates how broadly the nation’s leading colleges and universities enroll students from lower-income backgrounds, and Vassar College proved to be at the top of the list.
The Times studied the roughly 100 U.S. institutions of higher education that graduate at least 75% of their students, a common indicator of the most academically accomplished schools in the country. They were evaluated on two combined criteria: the percentage of freshmen who qualified for the federal Pell Grant program, and the amount students from households that earn $30,000- $48,000 actually paid to attend after factoring in what their school provided in financial aid.
The study found that 23% of Vassar freshmen qualified for Pell Grants (up from 12% in 2007), and those students from families earning $30,000- $48,000 paid on average only $5,600 to attend. The results were announced yesterday evening by columnist David Leonhardt at the Times’s fourth annual “Schools of Tomorrow” conference held in New York, and were published today by the Times. Leonhardt, managing editor of “The Upshot” online column, went on to conduct a panel discussion on the study and related issues with Vassar president Catharine Hill, University of Florida president Bernard Machen, and former Amherst College president Anthony Marx.
About Vassar’s commitment to enrolling a socioeconomically diverse student body, President Hill commented to the Times, “We are being supported by the federal government and the state government as a nonprofit. They’re doing that because of our nation’s commitment to equal opportunity and social mobility, and part of our obligation is living up to making that more of a reality in the United States.”
Hill, who began her Vassar presidency in 2006, is an economist who has long studied the admissions and financial aid practices of the nation’s most selective colleges and universities, schools that have considerable financial aid resources. Her research has demonstrated that while there are many students from lower-income backgrounds qualified to attend top schools, they are underrepresented at these institutions. Too often these students are not aware how affordable the schools can be through financial aid.
President Hill has led Vassar to increase recruitment of students from a broader range of backgrounds, and to make sure the college’s affordability for all prospective students is more widely known.
In 2007 Vassar also returned to a “need-blind” admissions policy, which evaluates applicants strictly on their academic qualifications. Under this policy students who accept Vassar’s admission offer and demonstrate need for financial aid to afford attendance, have their full need met for all four years they attend. Additionally, Vassar announced in 2007 a policy to eliminate loans from the financial aid packages provided to students whose families earn $60,000 or less.
In the current academic year Vassar will provide more than $60 million in financial aid through its strictly need-based aid program. Vassar graduates more than 90% of its matriculated students, among the highest rates for U.S. colleges and universities.
Grinnell College, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Amherst College, Harvard University, Pomona College, St. Mary’s College (IN), Smith College, Susquehanna University, and Columbia University rounded out the top ten schools in the New York Times study.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.