Section: News

Times report highlights Kenyon’s lack of economic diversity

More students at Kenyon come from the top one percent of the American income scale than from the bottom 60 percent, according to a new study on economic diversity in higher education reported in The New York Times. The release of the findings prompted President Sean Decatur to publish a blog post on the Kenyon website addressing the College’s efforts to increase socioeconomic diversity.

Kenyon ranks eighth on the Times’ list of 38 colleges in the United States that fit this classification: 19.8 percent of Kenyon students come from families in the top one percent, and 12.2 percent of students come from families in the bottom 60 percent. The ranking is based on research by The Equality of Opportunity Project, which analyzed millions of anonymous tax filings and tuition records.

The Times compiled its ranking using the cohort of college students born in 1991, meaning those in the class of 2013. Families in the top one percent are classified as earning $630,000 or more per year, while families in the bottom 60 percent make less than $65,000 per year.

The median family income of a Kenyon student is $213,500, according to the Times, and 75 percent of students come from the top 20 percent of earners. Kenyon’s share of students from families earning $20,000 or less per year is 1.7 percent. This is one of the lowest numbers in the country, ranking 2,375th of the 2,395 colleges in the Times’ dataset. The Times also concluded that less than one percent of Kenyon students who came from poor families became rich adults.

To supplement the study’s findings, the Times published interactive infographics that allow users to examine the economic diversity of more than 2,000 American colleges. Kenyon’s data reveal that the College ranks first of 88 Ohio colleges on its share of students from the top one percent and the top 20 percent.

On Jan. 25, President Sean Decatur published a blog post entitled “Moving Against Inequality” in response to the information released in the Times article. In his post, Decatur highlights the ways in which Kenyon is already working to increase socioeconomic diversity on campus; he points to Kenyon’s academic outreach partnerships, like the KEEP Scholars program, the Kenyon Academic Partnership and Camp 4. He also mentions the Kenyon 2020 Strategic Plan, which dictates the priorities and goals Kenyon strives to achieve by 2020.

“Addressing socioeconomic diversity and preparing students for success after graduation are top priorities of this plan, and both key components of the analysis in the NYT piece,” Decatur wrote in an email to the Collegian. “These are also top priorities for the comprehensive campaign.”

The study’s message — that there are high levels of economic inequality at Kenyon — adds to a long-standing conversation on campus about how to improve economic diversity.

Lauren Wheeler ’18 wishes the Kenyon students sharing the study on Facebook knew that low-income students are able to have 100 percent of their financial needs met partially because of the students that pay full tuition.

“I am here because Kenyon is able to provide full financial aid,” Wheeler said. She is a Pell Grant recipient, which refers to need-based federal grants that help students pay for college tuition. “While I’m not content with the results of the study, if [Kenyon] accepted more students who needed financial aid, I would not be able to be here because my aid would be lower.”

Kenyon is able to provide full scholarships or financial aid to some students in part because of the money the College receives from students who pay full tuition. Student fees, which include tuition, are funding 78 percent of Kenyon’s $137,426,000 operating budget for the 2016-2017 year. Just over 86 percent of Kenyon financial aid — or $27,078,000 — is covered by the College’s operating budget, meaning it is mostly funded by the tuition and fees of other students. The rest is provided by endowed scholarships, gifts or trust fund scholarships.

As of 2015, Kenyon’s endowment was $218.6 million, which is significantly lower than the endowments of peer institutions — Oberlin’s endowment, in comparison, is $832.4 million. A small endowment means Kenyon must rely more heavily on student fees to provide financial aid and fund the operations of the College.

During the admissions process, Kenyon admissions must take into account whether an applicant’s family can pay the full tuition, Dean of Admissions Diane Anci said.

“Kenyon, like most of its peer institutions, is need-aware or need-sensitive in admissions,” Anci said. “At some point, when we’re making admissions decisions, we are paying attention to a family’s ability or inability to afford a Kenyon education.”

Anci does not believe the disparities can be entirely attributed to the College’s small endowment. Inequality on campus reflects national patterns of worsening economic inequality, Anci said. Data show that rising tuition costs are outpacing family income growth, according to Anci.

“While we all acknowledge that progress may be slower than we’d like it to be,” Anci said, “our hope would be that moving forward, as we graduate one class and enroll a new class, we are always improving Kenyon’s diversity.”

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