Elite schools and low-income students

Posted by Hechinger Report on February 6, 2017

How do they do it? A few wealthy private colleges have found ways to serve many needy students without jeopardizing their financial health
Four elite private colleges are leading the way in graduating more low-income students.

Wealthy private colleges: Large endowments, few low-income students. It’s a rare instance of a stereotype matching available data. Generally, despite their prosperity, rich colleges don’t give many students of lesser means a shot at an elite, private education.

But there are private institutions that buck this trend. At Williams College, a highly selective liberal arts college in rural Massachusetts, 19 percent of its roughly 2,000 students last academic year received Pell Grants — federal aid typically for students from families earning less than $40,000 a year. And Williams reported that its most recent six-year graduation rate for Pell students was 90 percent — nearly 40 points above the national average.

Williams is rare. Nearly half of the nation’s wealthy private colleges and universities enroll so few Pell recipients that they would rank in the bottom five percent of schools enrolling such students. At many such institutions, the low-income students who do enroll graduate at far lower rates than their wealthier peers.

The Hechinger Report examined four high-flying colleges with large endowments (together totaling more than $9 billion) that have high Pell-recipient enrollment rates and high completion rates. The colleges — Denison University in central Ohio, Grinnell College in rural Iowa, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and Williams — can provide a blueprint for well-heeled institutions that currently enroll low percentages of low-income students.


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