Which top colleges are most welcoming to low-income students?

by Grace

Which top colleges are most welcoming to low-income students?  The Upshot used the percentage of students receiving Pell grants along with net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families to find the most economically diverse top colleges.

Most Economically Diverse
U.N.C.-Chapel Hill
St. Mary’s (Ind.)

The biggest theme to emerge from our analysis is that otherwise similar colleges often have very different levels of commitment to economic diversity….

Similarly, by looking at schools on the list like Barnard and U.N.C.-Chapel Hill, it’s clear that otherwise dissimilar colleges show similar economic diversity.

How many low-income students actually graduate?

An additional data point that would be informative is the graduation rates for Pell grant recipients at these schools.  That’s a significant measure of how well a college serves its low-income students.

Low-income families can look at these lists and search out other information to help them understand how welcoming a particular college would be for their child.  Schools that partner with the Posse Foundation, a support program for that enjoys a 90% graduation rate for its participants, should be considered.


David Leonhardt, “Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class and Poor, New York Times, Sept. 8, 2014.


7 Comments to “Which top colleges are most welcoming to low-income students?”

  1. Smith has had its Comstock Scholars program for many years, at least back to the 80’s, which is for older returning women from the local area. Many of those women are Pell-eligible, thus boosting the stats.

    Why UNC on this list and not UCLA, which has many low income students? I am guessing that many of the top publics do reasonably well, in fact.

    And why Susquehanna? That is a nice school, but not an elite one. If reaching down that far, Berea does a lot better by low income students.


  2. I probably should have noted this in the post, but their definition of “top” colleges included the criteria of a 75% 4-year graduation rate. That rules out a lot of schools, even many of the top publics. Many of the most elite colleges meet this stringent criteria, so I understand the use of this cut-off.


  3. Yes, even top publics like UC Berkeley only have 71% 4-year graduation rates. Students take time off (sometimes for financial reasons), drop out, go to school part-time, and so forth. The more low-income students you have, the larger the proportion of students that need to take time off from college. Even if financial support is available to the individual student, they may need time out to support their families.

    If you wanted to do a fair comparison, you would look at 6-year graduation rates, and count the full cost (students taking longer generally end up paying more for their educations). UCB has a 91% 6-year graduation rate, so it might be fair to consider only schools with a 90% or higher 6-year rate.


  4. “If you wanted to do a fair comparison, you would look at 6-year graduation rates, and count the full cost (students taking longer generally end up paying more for their educations). ”

    Yes, that would be a good comparison. I’d still like to see graduation rates and costs broken out between low-income students and everyone else.


  5. Yes, at my previous college, a public university with a very high proportion of working adult students, they would drop in and out all the time. Students would take the semester off because their workplace was busy at certain times of the year, or family issues, or simply needing to take a second job. In those days, no one worried about 4 year graduation rates, but I am sure ours were terrible. But, most of the students did finish. They just needed to finish in their own time. The emphasis on 4 year graduation rates imposes a straitjacket that does not fit the realities of many students lives.

    I just learned something horrifying today at my university. The administrators who deal with student academics are approving course substitutions that are wildly wrong, like say substituting a class on Microsoft Word for a programming class required in the major, because they are now under incredible pressure to boost 4 year graduation rates. I think we are going to see a lot of unintended consequences because of the overemphasis on churning students through quickly


  6. CSProfMom — Your school is apparently reacting to the Obama administration’s new rating system that will affect student aid allotment and other funding. It’s been much criticized by universities, with predictions that unintended consequences like the one you see will create more harm than benefit.


  7. Nah, they have been doing this for a few years now. There has been pressure on schools for the past few years, particularly at the state level for publics. The new rating system is just the icing on the cake


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