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Low-income students affect schools diversity

Economic diversity has entered the language to describe inequality in

higher education, and The University of Delaware is low in the diversity
By Emma Kingsley
Journalism student at The University of Delaware
Spending $170 for one chemistry book. Jetting off to Cancun for spring
break. Grabbing a last minute Amtrak ticket to Manhattan for a job
interview senior year. For many students at Americas elite colleges,
these are as much a part of university life as pulling all-nighters and
complaining about the food. But for low-income students these are
unaffordable luxuries.
Economic diversity is receiving growing attention in higher education
and its beginning to be a contributing factor in the rankings of colleges
and universities. President Obama has proposed a new college-rating
system in an effort to increase affordability in colleges. He plans to
hold the nations schools accountable for price in an attempt to bring
the soaring tuition under control. As a result, a number of elite colleges
have launched campaigns aimed at providing more aid to financially
strapped students.
The University of Delaware is under the mark. UD has one of the lowest
percentages of students receiving Pell Grants in the nation, at 8
percent. In comparison, The University of Maryland has double at 16
percent, and The University of Connecticut 19 percent, according to
Washington Monthly.
In order to receive aid, low-income and working class students must
first be admitted. Even highly talented and hard working low-income
students do not look as good on paper as their more privileged
colleagues due to family income. Research finds that while colleges
and universities give substantial preferences to under-represented
racial minorities, they give basically no preference to economically
disadvantaged students.
Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation who
specializes in economic diversity in education said that rich kids

outnumber poor kids by 14 to 1 at the most selective colleges and

Being admitted to a for-profit college and securing the federal loans to
attend isnt always the hard part. The promises of job opportunity that
these institutions offered couldnt be guaranteed, leaving a large
portion of students with big loans, no work, and no way to pay them
To combat this, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced
the final rules for new gainful employment regulations. These
regulations were placed to protect students at for-profit colleges from
becoming burdened by student loan debt they cannot repay. The
department is ensuring that these institutions improve their outcome
for students or risk losing access to federal student aid.
This rule is an important way of ensuring that the government doesnt
subsidize institutions that fail to provide a good education, particularly
to low-income students, said Kahlenberg.
To qualify for federal student aid, the law requires that most for-profit
programs and certificate programs at private non-profit and public
institutions prepare students for "gainful employment in a recognized
Under the regulations, which go in effect on July 1, 2015, a program
would be considered to lead to gainful employment if the estimated
annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 20 percent
of his or her discretionary income or 8 percent of his or her total
earnings. Programs that exceed these levels would be at risk of losing
their ability to participate in taxpayer-funded federal student aid
The department estimates that about 1,400 programs serving 840,000
students of whom 99 percent are at for-profit institutions would not
pass the accountability standards. All programs will have the
opportunity to make immediate changes that could help them avoid
sanctions, but if these programs do not improve, they will ultimately
become ineligible for federal student aidwhich often makes up nearly

90 percent of the revenue at for-profit institutions, according to the

U.S. Department of Education.
Halley Potter, another fellow at The Century foundation, where she
researches public policy solutions for addressing educational
inequality, agrees that the gainful employment rule makes an
important step toward addressing the abuses of for-profit colleges that
enroll large numbers of low-income students, saddle them with
excessive debt and leave graduates with out marketable credentials.
But Potter also argues that this rule doesnt do anything to address the
lack of access for low-income students at the other end of the
spectrum, at selective four-year colleges and universities. She says just
one in ten low-income students earn a bachelors degree by age 24,
compared to three out of four wealthy students.
Wealthy students are 14 times as likely as poor students to be enrolled
in the most competitive colleges. The Administration should do more
to push selective institutions to increase enrollment of low-income
students, said Potter.
In an anonymous survey taken by 141 students at the university, more
than one in four students believed there were hardly any low-income
students attending the university. In 2010, 224 out of the 3807
students in the freshmen class were low-income. Thats approximately
5 percent of students.
Tom LaPenta, the chief human resources officer whose job is focused
on creating and maintaining an environment that allows highly
talented, diverse engaged people to come to the school, declined to
comment on these numbers.
There is an extreme lack of economic diversity here at UD, said a
university official who wishes to remain anonymous. The truth is, lowincome students are not as profitable, and increasing enrollment of
those students can be expensive.
Potter explained the importance of diversity. Diverse classrooms
promote critical thinking and prepare students to succeed in mixed

We need to make sure that the doors to higher education are open to
students from all walks of life, including disadvantaged students who
need that opportunity most, said Potter.
Currently there is no available information to whether or not the
university would pass the gainful employment ruling, but it does seem
optimistic. The university has a 68 percent graduation rate in four
years and about 77 percent in six years. The U.S. average is 31 percent
in four years and 56 percent in six.
Because the university would most likely pass the gainful employment
ruling, other suggestions have been made that could improve
economic diversity. Potter suggests admissions programs that give a
leg up to low-income applicants. A way of doing this is through
Percent Plans which open the doors of state universities to top
graduates from under resourced high schools, guaranteeing admission
to public universities to a fixed percent of the highest achievers.
Research shows that two-thirds of high-achieving low-income students
do not apply to selective colleges, said Potter.
Kahlenberg recommends that colleges, like the university, also add
socioeconomic factors to admissions decisions. Colleges and
universities can look at a variety of socioeconomic factors family
income, wealth, single parent status, neighborhood demographics,
parents education level, high school performance and give credit to
students who faced disadvantages but showed impressive academic
performance in light of those challenges.
Growing economic inequality in the U.S. threatens to ruin the American
dream of upward mobility, and increasing access to high-quality
education for students of all backgrounds is one of the best ways to
keep that dream alive. Although the university provides high
graduation rates and almost half of students receive some kind of
financial aid, only about 12 percent of the entire student body is lowincome.
Talented poor and working-class students represent Americas
untapped resource, said Kahlenberg.

I hope to get in touch with more UD administration. No one answered
any of my emails or phone calls about an interview, and if they did
they declined or didnt want their name in the story (even when I tried
to explain the story was only for a class). Im going to try to find other
people I can reach out to and see if they will give me an interview.
Richard Kahlenberg (expert)
Halley Potter (expert)
Harold Pollack (expert)
Tom LaPenta (UD) declined
Evelyn Zerenner (UD) declined