As I was paging through the Tuesday edition of the New York Times, I happened upon “The Upshot,” a regular column of data analysis edited by David Leonhardt. “The Most Economically Diverse Top Colleges,” which ran on Sept. 8, included a list rating the economic diversity of elite colleges and universities with graduation rates of 75 percent or higher.
“The Upshot” calculated the rankings by analyzing a variety of data points: each school’s allotted endowment per student, the net price of the college and the average amount of freshmen in attendance in 2012-2014 receiving federal Pell Grants in comparison with the amount of attending in 2008. A Pell Grant is a federal program which provides non-loan funding for college students coming from the bottom forty percent of total American incomes.
All of the above factors combined to give each college a score. Kenyon received a negative rating of -1.2, ranking in the bottom half of colleges surveyed. The average number of incoming freshman receiving Pell Grants over the past three years only increased by one percentage point from fall 2007. When it’s analyzed this way, the data is pretty compelling to lead the casual reader to a conclusion that Kenyon is doing a poor job in recruiting students from low-middle class income demographics.
However, the story seems to be more complicated than the narrative of elite schools resisting economic diversity. After observing the figures, it seems that Kenyon might have received a lower ranking primarily due to the lack of freshmen from 2012-2014 who receive Pell Grants, of which there were, on average, only eight per class. The data would perhaps be a better measure if it showed instead how many students were admitted that received Pell Grants.
“The Upshot” followed up the article with another the following day. The new column suggested that perhaps the most important data point on the index was net price for low to middle income students, one point where Kenyon was competitively ranked with the schools on the top of the list.
However, the idea of the “American Dream” is crucial to this country’s mindset. If qualified students are not receiving the support they require, like renewable scholarships/grants and lucrative on-campus employment, attending the college of their choice without staggering debt may be impossible. A push for economic diversity is certainly necessary. A multitude of perspectives of students from all backgrounds are valuable and necessary during the four years of our lives dedicated to learning what to think about and why.
I’m mildly optimistic about President Decatur’s comments published in the Collegian last week acknowledging that improving economic diversity is an important issue at Kenyon. I’m also very grateful to the Financial Aid office, because as a student from a middle-class family, I wouldn’t be here without their offer of financial assistance. But perhaps the heart of the problem for students currently on campus is that “the Kenyon environment may foster a culture that assumes that almost everyone is affluent, even if that might not be the case for every student,” as put by a fellow first-year with whom I had a conversation about the article. If that’s the case, then we all have some serious work to do as a community to ameliorate that stereotype, and create spaces where all perspectives are represented and shared.
This is an active conversation, and I look forward to hearing thoughtful discourse — both here at Kenyon and nationwide — about improving college accessibility for all.
Gabi Healy ’18 is undeclared from Fairhaven, Mass. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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