Is Brown University living up to its stated commitment to socioeconomic diversity? Not according to one new study. [Though it's making strides; see this follow-up.]
Only 10.9% of Brown students – 719 in an undergraduate student body of roughly 6,000 - received federal Pell grants during the 2008-09 school year, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education study. Among elite colleges, that was more than Harvard’s 6.5% but lower than Stanford’s 12%.
The New York Times’ David Leonhardt explains the significance:
Pell Grants are easily the country’s largest financial-aid program and, as a rule of thumb, they tend to go to students who come from the bottom half of nation’s income distribution. …
I wouldn’t expect 50 percent of Harvard students — or even, say, 40 percent of Harvard students — to come from the bottom 50 percent of the income distribution. But 6.5 percent? To put it another way, do you believe that more than 93 percent of the students who are most deserving of attending the nation’s most prestigious, best financed college come from the top half of the income distribution?
In Brown’s case, its enrollment implies that 89% of the best students in the country come from upper-income families. This is at a school with a need-blind admission policy - meaning, as the university’s website says, “a candidate’s financial need will not be taken into consideration when deciding to admit, wait list, or deny an applicant.”
More power to the 11% of lower-income students who squeaked into Brown, but do administrators there really think this situation reflects reality? Leonhardt doesn’t, and he cites a Princeton study which “found that elite colleges gave zero credit in the applications process to students from low-income families.”
The late Claiborne Pell, a Rhode Islander himself, would likely urge Brown to make better use of his eponymous grants. The university’s low Pell rate doesn’t appear to fit with the philosophy espoused by its eight-year-old Office of Institutional Diversity, either (emphasis mine):
Diversity is the foundation of the academic enterprise. Exposure to a broad range of perspectives, views and outlooks is key to fostering both breadth and depth in intellectual knowledge.
Diversity policies and programs at Brown are designed to: (1) redress historical patterns of exclusion and (2) foster opportunities to embrace the greatest mix of ideas, opinions, and beliefs so important to the achievement of academic excellence. Accordingly, the term diversity is used at Brown in the broadest sense to encompass many things such as race, color, religion, age, national and ethnicity origin, disability, status as a veteran, language, socio-economic background, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, political ideology, theoretical approach and the list can go on. It is through the interaction among individuals from a diverse set of experiences, histories and backgrounds that true intellectual diversity is achieved.
At Brown, we seek to achieve diversity in our living, learning and working environments by placing emphasis on the recruitment and retention of students, faculty and staff from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. We also work to ensure diversity in our curricular and co-curricular offerings, and we invest in the structural supports needed to manage our lively, provocative, and stimulating community.
Update: Coincidentally, Brown is sending its acceptance notices tonight to 2,692 students – just 8.7% of the 30,948 who applied to join the Class of 2015. That was the largest number of applicants in Brown history.
The university says it admitted 74 of the 394 Rhode Islanders who applied – an 18.8% admit rate, more than double the Brown-wide one. Congratulations to the lucky 74.
Perhaps the Class of ’15 will be more economically diverse, too – Brown says nearly 67% of them applied for financial aid.
Update #2: Brown responds – Pell Grants are up 37% since the Chronicle study, and the share of students with loan-free aid packages has jumped from 6% to 61%, a university spokeswoman tells me.
(photo: Brown University)