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A more economically diverse student body?

Interesting article in today’s Washington Post, entitled Pell Grant Shares at Top-Ranked Colleges: a sortable chart, with a number of Williams connections.   The data is based on kids who were freshman in 2015, so its a little dated, but it reports that 22% of Williams freshman in 2015 were eligible for Pell Grants from the Federal government.  This number was up from 21% in 2010.  According to the article, Williams is one of 39 schools amongst the top 100 national universities and top 50 liberal arts colleges (according to the US News and World Report rankings) which has a freshman class with at least 20% Pell Grant eligible students.

Two former Williams faculty members are quoted in the article, representing schools with (relatively) high and low numbers of Pell Grant eligible students.  According to the article, Vassar College adopted a need-blind admissions policy in 2007 and has seen its percentage of Pell Grant eligible students jump from 12% to 23%, without any decline in the academic credentials of its incoming students:

Catharine Hill [Williams Class of 1976 1977 and former provost of Williams], president of Vassar from 2006 to 2016, said the school’s record shows it is possible to broaden the demographic base of a selective college — drawing more students from low- and moderate-income families — without compromising standards. “In most cases, if you wanted to do more, you could do more,” Hill said. “All we had to do was go looking for kids. Our academic credentials actually went up.”

On the other hand, Washington and Lee University has gone in the other direction, with its percentage of Pell Grant eligible students dropping from 11% to 6% between 2010 and 2015.  Washington and Lee wants to reverse this trend, though, at least according to its new President:

Will Dudley [Williams Class of 1989 and also a former provost of Williams], who this year became president of the private Virginia liberal arts school, said the share rose to 11 percent this fall and he wants to lift it further. Dudley said he raised the issue of socioeconomic diversity at Washington and Lee when he was interviewing for the job. Previously, he was provost at Williams College, which had a far higher Pell share in 2015 — 22 percent. “If they didn’t want to make progress, they wouldn’t have hired me,” Dudley said.

The entire article and the underlying data is interesting.  No one seems to to question that the  percentage of Pell Grant eligible students is a good proxy for socio-economic diversity.  I wonder if there are different metrics to try to measure the same thing.

Should Williams make additional efforts to recruit and admit more students who are eligible for Pell Grants?

 

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#1 Comment By Fendertweed On October 24, 2017 @ 4:43 pm

Cappy Hill my friend and classmate) is actually class of 1976.

#2 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On October 24, 2017 @ 4:46 pm

Thank you for the correction! I have fixed the error in the post.

#3 Comment By DDF On October 25, 2017 @ 8:03 am

Should Williams make additional efforts to recruit and admit more students who are eligible for Pell Grants?

Williams should make additional efforts to recruit and admit the smartest 18 year-old English fluent students in the world. Some will be Pell Grant eligible and some won’t be. What matters is student quality — academic talent and ambition — not family income.

Thanks for pointing out this article. There is at least a week’s worth of material here. Should I spend a week on it? Reader opinions welcome!

#4 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On October 25, 2017 @ 9:22 am

Thanks for pointing out this article. There is at least a week’s worth of material here. Should I spend a week on it? Reader opinions welcome!

Not sure if a week is necessary, but more detailed exploration would be welcome.

#5 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On October 25, 2017 @ 10:29 am

Williams should make additional efforts to recruit and admit the smartest 18 year-old English fluent students in the world. Some will be Pell Grant eligible and some won’t be. What matters is student quality — academic talent and ambition — not family income.

If all else is equal with regards to academic talent (which is different from academic pedigree and accomplishments) and ambition, should family income be a factor in deciding who is admitted as between candidates A and B? I think yes.

#6 Comment By Tom Foolery On October 25, 2017 @ 4:13 pm

DDF is right on this one. Why should any student be judged on anything other than talent and ambition? And why put further stress on an endowment that is already fully stressed with very little room for a decline due to the high amount of financial aid already being provided. To judge admissions on family income is further social engineering which is already of dubious value. Williams is already too bar-belled economically anyway-where are the families getting $20k a year in aid? The data suggest you go almost for free or pay the full amount-something is very wrong with this.

#7 Comment By JCD On October 25, 2017 @ 7:52 pm

Sometimes, I think the east coast elites just don’t understand this country. I was the first person in my family, on either side, to go to graduate school and earn a Ph.D. Part of what made me better than the other young graduate students is that I had something to prove — for myself and for my family.

(This is, in part, why it still infuriates me to remember how Williams College dissed my academic work as a young man.)

Meanwhile, my wealthy nieces and nephews seem to have less drive and ambition than me. They obviously don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Moreover, thanks to their inherited wealth, they do not feel the same urgency as I did to succeed.

All in all, I’m not sure that being wealthy (or native white) is an advantage when it comes to having talent or ambition as an undergraduate student. When I taught at Williams College, the biggest failures in my courses where the hapless, clueless, overwhelmed alumni kids.

#8 Comment By Healthy Eph On October 26, 2017 @ 5:48 pm

You did no academic work at Williams. That’s why you were “dissed.” Not because of the quality of your dissertation, which was surely outstanding, but because of the paucity of your post-dissertation work.

I know that many people have raised these issues in many contexts at Ephblog, but your utterly false narrative still needs to be rebutted constantly, because one of your sources of “legitimacy” here (and I use the scare quotation marks intentionally) is that you were somehow a victim at Williams, when in fact you were only a victim of your own inability to fulfill your promise. Williams could not diss work that never happened. And while you were at Williams, no work happened.

I’m a relative newcomer to these parts, but I hope that there are always people to counter your victim narrative here, because it informs just about every single thing you have written here for at least a year and from what I can tell, much longer.

(I started posting here when you asserted that Williamstown is somehow “unhealthier” than Orange County, so your antipathy to Williams really does run so deep that it defies even rudimentary logic.)

#9 Comment By Fendertweed On October 26, 2017 @ 6:42 pm

What Healthy Eph said …