By Katlyn Riggins
Christopher Newport University, led by former U.S. Senator Paul Trible (R-VA) and located in current U.S. House Education Committee Chairman Bobby Scott’s (D-VA) Congressional District, is the sixth worst public college in the country on working-class and low-income student access. In fact, its Pell Grant student enrollment rate has been going down. Its net price has been going up. And its Black student enrollment level pales compared to its geographic home. And again, it’s a public university.
Low & Declining Pell Grant Student Enrollment
Pell Grants typically go to students who come from families earning $60,000 per year or less. There are tens of thousands of students nationwide who are low-income and highly-qualified to attend schools like Christopher Newport University (CNU), but only 14 percent of CNU students are Pell Grant recipients—less than half of the national average.
While other colleges have been increasing their working-class and low-income student enrollment in past years, Christopher Newport has been reducing its Pell Grant student body share. From 2011 to 2018, CNU’s Pell enrollment decreased by over 17 percent.
Several Virginia colleges outperform Christopher Newport on working class and low-income student enrollment, including Virginia Commonwealth University (28%), George Mason University (29% Pell), and Old Dominion University (38%).
Increasing Prices Charged to Working Class Students
Christopher Newport’s declining Pell shares likely reflect its increased expense. Between 2009 and 2018, the net price of Christopher Newport (i.e., what a student pays after all scholarships and grant aid are deducted) increased by 46 percent, or almost $8,000 per year. The average net price has increased not just overall, but also for students likely to receive Pell Grants, essentially decreasing the value of the grant.
While William & Mary has a higher sticker price than Christopher Newport, over the past decade it’s net price for financial aid recipients has been significantly lower than CNU’s. William & Mary has a very low Pell rate as well, but it has at least managed to keep its net price for working class and middle class students lower than at CNU. Christopher Newport students from households earning between $48,000 and $75,000 pay almost twice as much, on average, as they would at William & Mary.
Black Enrollment Down
Christopher Newport is located in a Congressional District that is 47% Black, but its student body is 77% white. For the past decade, Black students have rarely made up even as little as 8% of undergraduates at Christopher Newport, even though during this period over 22% of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s 18-24-year-olds were African-American.
Worse, Black enrollment at CNU has been declining for the past four years. In 2019, the share of African-American students at CNU hit its lowest point in over a decade.
Source: Analysis of data from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and NCES College Navigator. It is important to note that College Navigator, the source of 2019 demographic data, rounds its values, meaning that we know that enrollment was below 6.5% last year. Census data, taken from ACS: American Community Survey/ United States Census Bureau.
Two years ago, Christopher Newport’s President and former U.S. Senator Paul Trible (R-VA), wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Understanding and respecting differences can best develop in a community where members learn, live, work, and serve among individuals with diverse worldviews, identities, and values.”
We could not agree more, but statements like this need to be backed up by a meaningful commitment to diversity and racial justice. Christopher Newport’s enrollment numbers reveal a large gap between Trible’s words and the reality on campus.
It’s time to hold CNU’s feet to the fire.
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