Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 3.

Here is the happy story of Vassar.

In 2007, 12 percent of freshmen entering Vassar had enough need to qualify for federal Pell Grants. Within two years, the share had climbed to 20 percent and federal data showed it has stayed above that threshold ever since. In 2015, the Pell share for Vassar was 23 percent.

Catharine Hill, 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.”

EphBlog loves Cappy Hill something fierce. She aimed to increase the percentage of Pell-eligible students at Vassar and succeeded in doing so. But did she meaningfully increase socio-economic diversity at Vassar? Consider the data:

vass

1) There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of students who come from families in the top 1%. It was 10% 15 years ago. It around 10% now. I, obviously, have no problem with that, but the Washington Post ought to at least mention this narrative-challenging fact. Is Rob Anderson a reporter or Cappy Hill’s PR flack?

2) At the other end of the distribution, only 5.4% of Vassar students are currently from families in the bottom quintile of the income distribution. Alas, the Times does not show us the time series of that statistic, but I bet that it has been fairly steady over time. Vassar has offered plenty of students full scholarships for decades.

3) In Cappy’s defense, there has been some movement lower in between the 20th and the 90th percentile of the income distribution. In essence, she replaced a bunch of students with incomes around the 65th percentile (around $70,000) with students from families making more like $50,000. The former group are not eligible for Pell, the latter are. Is this some giant victory for the forces of social justice? I doubt it.

Private colleges face their own constraints. They rely more heavily on tuition revenue, making it essential to enroll a large number of students who pay in full. They also set aside seats for children of alumni, known as “legacies.” Like public colleges, they also hold spots for athletes and chase students with high SAT or ACT scores, despite evidence that performance on admission tests is linked to family income.

How many stupidities can Rob Anderson put into one paragraph? First, the average academic credentials of legacies at Williams are better than those of non-legacies. The same is almost certainly true at Vassar and at Princeton. Second, “performance on admission tests is linked to family income” because rich parents are, on average, smarter than poor parents, and all parents pass on their genes to their children.

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