Last week, The New York Times published an article ranking U.S. colleges with a higher number of students in the top one percent than students in the lower 60 percent of average American family income. Kenyon was ranked eighth in the country for the extent of its disparity between the two.
The results are troubling, but this is not a problem unique to Kenyon. We have an extreme case that is exacerbated by our paltry endowment. Because Kenyon can offer so little financial aid, it must accept a greater number of students who can pay in full. More than 75 percent of the 2016-2017 operating budget was funded from fees, including tuition — that’s over $107 million. while only 6 percent came from endowment income. Attempts to create greater socioeconomic diversity must also come with an increase in the number of students in the one percent. This is the only way the College can break even. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that does our community a disservice.
A lack of a diversity is ultimately a detriment to the liberal arts experience. Most of us chose Kenyon because we wanted an academic environment that encouraged us to explore a wide variety of opinions and perspectives. The liberal arts works best when it challenges your way of thinking. And that’s not possible if Kenyon maintains this socioeconomic disparity. The scope of the campus’ collective thinking is limited because so many Kenyon students come from similar, privileged backgrounds. Furthermore, a lack of economic diversity makes the liberal arts experience inherently elitist, something only available to those who can pay the price tag.
But no amount of discussion about this issue is going to solve this problem. The College needs to prioritize increasing its endowment — and prioritize spending it on financial aid. The Master Plan seeks to improve the physical appearance and daily operations of campus life — and some renovations will certainly make Kenyon a better place for students to learn and live. While new buildings may attract new donors, the College isn’t doing enough to show that it is prioritizing the issue of economic diversity. New donors may be enticed by putting their names on buildings, but the College has to have a better plan than “once donors start giving money, they’ll keep doing it.” It relies too heavily on the success of the Master Plan, and is not an active effort that proves that they are prioritizing the student body. Perhaps Kenyon donors could put their names on a scholarship fund instead of on a building.