Opinion | Where Are the Low-Income Students? Not Here.

In The News

January 11, 2023

From The Chronicle of Higher Ed

By James Murphy

January 11, 2023

One of the most powerful ways colleges transform students’ lives is by improving their upward economic mobility. And so it’s useful to know the share of Pell Grant-receiving students a college enrolls — after all, you can’t drive social mobility if you don’t enroll poor people. Pell numbers are not a perfect proxy for low-income status, but, according to the Biden administration, two-thirds of Pell recipients are from households with incomes below $30,000, and 93 percent are from households with incomes below $60,000.

In recent years, thanks in part to increasing pressure from advocates for admissions reform, a growing number of selective colleges have come to see social mobility as part of their mission. Princeton University, for example, raised its percentage of undergraduates with Pell Grants more than 40 percent between 2015 and 2020. In 2019, a quarter of Princeton’s freshman class was Pell-eligible, which was the same percentage as that of Rutgers University at New Brunswick.

Princeton’s a long way from its New Jersey neighbor in terms of numbers, however. The state flagship enrolled more than 10,000 Pell-eligible undergraduates in 2020, while Princeton — whose prestige rests in part on its exclusivity — enrolled just over 1,000. Social-mobility impact is not just a question of how much of a college’s freshman class is Pell-eligible; it’s also about how big that class is.

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