The Equality of Opportunity Project gathers amazing data on the incomes of college graduates and their families. The New York Times provides an overview and this summary (pdf) of Williams data. Day 2 of 5 on this topic.

income2

Click on the image, or check out The Times directly, for more detail. But the basic message is simple: Williams is a rich families school in absolute terms, but less so than its NESCAC peers. Comments:

1) Again, this has little (nothing?) to do with the moral rectitude or policy preferences of the presidents and trustees of these schools. You really think that Joanne Berger-Sweeney, president of Trinity cares less about economic diversity than Adam Falk? Hah! Trinity is a (much?) poorer school than Williams so it can’t afford as much financial aid.

2) These differences are large and meaningful, even among schools with not-dissimilar endowments and student populations. For example, I would not have predicted that the median Middlebury family was 1/3 richer ($244k versus $186k). I also can’t decide if Wesleyan, one of the poorest schools in NESCAC, has such a lower median income and small percentage from the top 1% because of a serious (and expensive!) commitment to socio-economic diversity or because its reputation as a social justice warrior school makes it less appealing to the wealthy. Comments welcome!

3) One of the main mechanisms, I think, by which schools manage the distribution of median income is via the wait list. The rich schools, like Williams, claim that family income plays no part in who gets off the wait list. (I believe that claim, but sleaziness in the use of the term “low-income” makes me more suspicious than I want to be.) Less rich schools take family income into account, which I bet means that the vast majority of students who get off the wait list require no financial aid.

4) The other mechanism for controlling the income distribution is to squeeze out the upper middle class, especially folks making somewhere between $75,000 and $180,000. These folks aren’t “poor,” and so, according to NESCAC presidents/trustees, don’t really add to socio-economic diversity, but they can be very expensive. Indeed, creating a barbell distribution — lots of super-rich and very poor — is the natural strategy for any school which wants to have the resources needed for a first class education (for which you need families that require no aid) with a commitment to social justice (for which you need poor, and not just “low income,” families). However, I could be wrong about this. Perhaps the entire distributions are shifted?

Williams is, even among elite schools, somewhat extreme in pursuing this barbell approach. We have among the highest percentage of students from both the top 0.1% (2.8%) and from the bottom 20% (5.3%). And, as long as these students have very strong credentials — Academic Rating 1 or, maybe, 2 — I think that this is great thing.

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