Do Poorer Students Get Chances?

May 25, 2011

David Leonhardt of The New York Times has an excellent column today entitled “Top Colleges, Largely for the Elite,” commenting on the hardly secret news that prestigious, wealthy colleges and universities largely serve students from very affluent families.  Known this point may be, but it is worth repeating and repeating until we find a way to provide fair access for all young people, whatever their race or economic background, to the opportunities provided by a high quality college education.

Leonhardt uses the column to praise Amherst College’s departing president Tony Marx who has led Amherst down a road of increasing the percentage of Pell-eligible (that is to say, poor) students Amherst enrolls and graduates.

Says Marx, “We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent.”  “Yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”  Leonhardt sketches some of the strategies Amherst and other colleges have followed to boost their Pell-eligible percentages.

You can read the approving appraisal from Kevin Carey (Education Sector) here.  Leonhardt has also written about this issue on the Times‘s Economix blog.

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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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