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Are colleges doing enough to recruit low-income students?

Published: Wednesday, July 31 2013 7:25 p.m. MDT

New study shows that at the most competitive colleges in America, only 14 percent of students receive Pell Grants. Authors of the study suggest these findings should raise concerns about efforts to improve socio-economic diversity at college.

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While many top universities affirm their committment to recruiting poor students, a comparison of low-income enrollment shows wide disparities, according to a report from the New York Times.

At Vassar, Amherst College and Emory University, 22 percent of undergraduate students receive Pell Grants, money awarded to students whose families earn less than $30,000 a year, according to research conducted by Times reporters. By contrast they found that only 7 percent of undergraduates at Washington University were Pell recipients, and 8 percent of students at Washington and Lee University.

The Times findings are supported by similar studies conducted by academics. For example, a study by researchers at Georgetown University found that at the most competitive colleges, only 14 percent of students come from the lower 50 percent of families by income. Georgetown researchers said that these figures have been stagnant for more than two decades.

The findings are an "indication that a generation of pledges to diversify has not amounted to much. Top colleges differ markedly in how aggressively they hunt for qualified teenagers from poorer families, how they assess applicants who need aid, and how they distribute the available aid dollars," concluded the Times reporter.

Although some institutions may not have the resources to be as generous as the top colleges, Times reporters also found that at the elite colleges there is "little correlation between a university’s wealth and the number of students who receive Pell Grants."

Times researchers found that Washington University has an endowment similar in size per student to Emory and Vassar, and Washington and Lee’s endowment is significantly larger. Harvard and Yale have the largest endowments in the country, but only 15 percent of their students receive Pell Grants; at Princeton, with the largest per-capita endowment, only 12 percent of students receive Pell Grants.

Some dispute these findings, however. A study by US News found that 19 percent of students at Harvard University and 29 percent of students at Columbia University were the recipients of Pell Grants. The University of California Los Angeles ranked first with 39 percent of students receiving assistance.

mwhite@deseretnews.com

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