The nation’s top public universities are cushioning the cost of college for those students who need it the least, according to a report by The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization. And while the University of Virginia has made important progress in minority students’ access to higher education, it lagged behind when it came to enrolling low-income students.
Incoming UVA President Teresa Sullivan arrived at University of Michigan in 2006, a year when UM’s enrollment of minority students declined. One question facing her when she takes office in August: What will her impact be on UVA’s low-income and minority student enrollment?
According to the study, research-extensive public institutions spent a grand total of $361 million in 2007 on grant money for families with an income of more than $115,000—a 28 percent increase from 2003—and another $400 million on students from families making $80,000 to $115,000 per year.
Greg Roberts, UVA Dean of Admission, says that, as far as UVA goes, things have changed since the 2006 data. “I think we have made tremendous improvements, especially in the low-income area in the past few years,” he says. For the 2009 class, 31 percent of enrolled UVA students are receiving need-based financial aid, an increase from 24 percent in 2006.
Furthermore, students who are eligible for Pell Grants—federal money awarded to students on the basis of their demonstrated need, with an average family income of $20,000 in 2007-2008—have increased at UVA. “I think another statistic that is worth noting is that in 2006…about 8 percent of our students were Pell eligible, and now it’s 11 percent and that is increasing,” says Roberts.
“It’s true, certainly we are not where we would like to be,” he adds, “but we think that we are moving in the right direction.”
Mary Lynch, one of the authors of the report, says that UVA performed better, according to the 2006 data, in enrolling minority students than low-income. Lynch says that, in 2006, approximately 10 percent of UVA students came from low-income families, while 32 percent of all college students in Virginia were low-income.
However, it’s not all bad news. “We see that there is some progress there… They were one of the biggest improvers among flagships on access to low-income students,” she says.
Access UVA is one cause behind this progress. It’s a financial aid program championed by late Dean of Admission John Blackburn and favored by President John Casteen that meets 100 percent of a student’s financial need.
Lynch says that while public universities are trying to compete for high-income and high-achieving students, the efforts put towards recruiting low-income, high-achieving students is unequal.
“[The universities] are working hard to compete in college ranking guides, like the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which does not give much credit for enrolling low-income and minority students,” she says. “It actually gives you more points for who you exclude from your university.”
Just last week, UVA announced that a record number of admission applications—22,396, up from last year’s 21,831—were received for the 2014 class. Roberts says that he is trying to build a class of freshmen and transfer students “that are (A) academically talented and qualified, and (B) diverse,” he says. “Those are our two priorities and diversity takes many forms—it could be racial, it could be socio-economic, it could be diversity of talent, and all sorts of things.”
Interestingly, President-elect Teresa Sullivan comes from the University of Michigan, a school that also performed poorly in enrolling low-income students. In contrast to UVA, however, the representation of minority students at UM has decreased since 2004. It should be noted that Sullivan arrived in Ann Arbor the same year that data was collected for the report. She was not available for comment at press time.
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