Choosing Not to Educate Poor Students

March 28, 2011

This morning’s Chronicle of Higher Education has an article entitled “Elite Colleges Fail to Gain More Students on Pell Grants.”  (Non-subscribers will hit a pay wall.)  The gist of the piece:

Just under 15 percent of the undergradu­ates at the country’s 50 wealthiest colleges received Pell Grants in 2008-9, the most recent year for which national data are available. That percentage hasn’t changed much from 2004-5, around the time that elite institutions focused their attention on the issue. And Pell Grant students are still signifi­cantly less represented at the wealthiest colleges than they are at public and nonprofit four-year colleges nation­wide, where grant recipients accounted for roughly 26 percent of students in 2008-9.

Not much surprise here.  All over the United States, colleges and universities that have options in terms of which students they enroll (aka the more selective colleges and universities) are engaging in admissions strategies that choose wealthier students and pass poor students onto to other colleges that have less choice in terms of who they admit.  It’s like a gigantic game of hearts: pass poor students to the left.

By “elite colleges” we should read “wealthiest colleges.”  Those with the greatest ability to afford to educate poorer students choose to educate fewer poorer students.

In the admissions marketplace, competitive dynamics lead institutions to attract students with greater ability to pay.  It’s just facet of how the financing of higher education in the United States is badly broken.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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