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Shifting Balance of Lower/Middle/Upper Classes in Admissions

SuperSenior19SuperSenior19 183 replies9 threads Junior Member
Not sure if this is the right forum to post this in, but here's something I've been thinking about lately:

As a general trend, a lot of elite colleges are focusing on trying to recruit more lower-income students, ostensibly to create a more "well-balanced" class, but also because of public criticism against schools with a high percentage of very wealthy students. OK, sounds great; I think that's a good goal.

Admitting more low-income students, however, means giving away more scholarships, which costs money. And if colleges replace a full-pay student with a $0-EFC student, they "lose" both the ~70k/yr the rich student would pay AND the ~70k/yr they're giving the poor student in financial aid. Obviously, colleges don't want to do that, or can't.

So to me, it seems like colleges would have to admit even MORE rich/full-pay students to get the money they need to give poor students scholarships. And if they're increasing the number of lower-income students and the number of upper-income students, all without increasing the size of the student body -- wouldn't that mean the number of middle-class students has to go down drastically?

I don't think most proponents of the push to admit more low-SES students are imaging that colleges will punish the middle class; by contrast, I think most imagine it would mean ending unfair advantages given to wealthy students and create a more balanced mix of students. But considering the financial facts and the middle-class "donut hole" that gets talked about so often on CC, I don't see how it wouldn't backfire on the middle class. Otherwise, where is the money coming from?

Tldr: if colleges admit more low-income students, will they admit even more rich students to compensate, pushing out middle-class students? Or not?

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Replies to: Shifting Balance of Lower/Middle/Upper Classes in Admissions

  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 24099 replies19 threads Senior Member
    They may accept the same number of students from each SES group, but maybe only those who are full pay and those on full FA will be able to attend. Many middle class students can't afford their full EFC and so choose to chase merit or a cheaper school to be able to afford college.

    Many schools are need blind (at least for domestic students) so don't know if the applicant has full need and accept all the applicants without knowing the amount of FA they'll need. I think that's what is happening now at many schools.
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  • 12Vvnji12Vvnji 15 replies1 threads Junior Member
    I thought financial aid programs weren't funded by other rich students but from the government??
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  • thumper1thumper1 77215 replies3434 threads Senior Member
    @12Vvnji
    I thought financial aid programs weren't funded by other rich students but from the government??

    The government provides the Pell Grant monies, SEOG, federal work study monies, and Direct Loans.

    Any remaining financial aid would be institutional financial aid, and that is provided with money from the colleges themselves.

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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35301 replies399 threads Senior Member
    Colleges increase their fundraising to afford more fin aid. As it is, all those 70k kids are not paying all a college's annual expenses.
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  • Groundwork2022Groundwork2022 2989 replies72 threads Senior Member
    @12Vvnji
    Where do you think the government is getting the money from to fund colleges?
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  • circuitridercircuitrider 3567 replies176 threads Senior Member
    It's coming from both. Without massive fund-raising drives, like the one just completed at Wesleyan recently (~a quarter of a billion dollars earmarked for financial aid), financial aid is heavily subsidized (or "discounted", to use the current parlance.) It is the largest line item on every college or university budget after wages and salaries. Government help comes in the form of Pell grants which are capped at $7,000 IIRC, and in the form of low-interest loans which many of the wealthiest colleges are replacing with -0- loan packages.
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  • cshell2cshell2 962 replies11 threads Member
    I know very little about how private colleges get their money for scholarships, but I know our private high school has a HUGE endowment fund that was established many years ago by alumni and there are several ongoing benefactors that continue to contribute to this fund. It is used for assisting lower income students in attending and giving graduating seniors college scholarships.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 81216 replies729 threads Senior Member
    12Vvnji wrote:
    I thought financial aid programs weren't funded by other rich students but from the government??

    For public universities, the FA budget is directly related to government funding and policies.

    For private universities, explicit government funding of FA grants is limited to Pell grants and any applicable state grants that are allowed to be used at private universities. Some subsidized loans are also available. But most private university FA comes from the private university itself.
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  • 10s4life10s4life Forum Champion UCLA 2402 replies50 threads Forum Champion
    @ucbalumnus Not necessarily true for public schools. Many public schools have private endowments that have funds earmarked for scholarships and FA
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 81216 replies729 threads Senior Member
    As a general trend, a lot of elite colleges are focusing on trying to recruit more lower-income students, ostensibly to create a more "well-balanced" class, but also because of public criticism against schools with a high percentage of very wealthy students. OK, sounds great; I think that's a good goal.

    if colleges admit more low-income students, will they admit even more rich students to compensate, pushing out middle-class students? Or not?

    As it is now, a typical elite private university has about half of undergraduates attending without FA (probably means household income >$250k (top 4%) or very high assets to be able to afford that) and only 10-20% with Pell grant (typically bottom half of household income, based on FAFSA4caster). So that leaves about 30-40% getting FA but not Pell, meaning from the upper half of the household income distribution excluding the top 4% or so. I.e. the household income backgrounds of undergraduates:
    * bottom half => very underrepresented
    * top half excluding top 4% => somewhat underrepresented
    * top 4% => hugely overrepresented

    While the elite private universities market themselves as providing opportunities for students from low income backgrounds, the actual result is that they are still mainly enrolling students from the upper ranges of household income backgrounds. Note that about half of kids see parental divorce; those who are FA-needy will find it difficult to get FA at most elite private universities if their parents are uncooperative with each other (as is usually the case). Of course, their admission preferences and procedures (e.g. use of legacy preference, emphasis on recommendations that are more available at pricey prep schools than at overloaded public schools which ration them, etc.) also tilt the playing field toward applicants from high income backgrounds.
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  • SuperSenior19SuperSenior19 183 replies9 threads Junior Member
    @BelknapPoint So where's the money coming from, if not tuition? Not all of it is being fundraised. And I would argue that, although tuition from full-pay students isn't paying all of the bills, it's certainly paying a lot of it (along with the money wealthier families end up donating to the school during those fundraising drives) -- or else colleges wouldn't prefer wealthy students.

    And @twoinanddone, even schools that are need-blind aren't stupid -- they know that a student living in the Hamptons or going to a boarding school is probably rich, and that a student from the inner city going to an unaccredited high school probably isn't. It might be harder to pin down middle-class students, but not impossible; even seeing whether an applicant has siblings in college yields a lot of information about likely EFC. But you're right, affording it is the real problem.

    Pell Grants are barely covering 10% of the cost at elite schools -- the only way it seems relevant to me is that colleges use it as an easy benchmark for lower-income students, so those just above the limit see a sharp drop in aid.

    I'm not saying I have any data to back it up, just my own observations. Still, it seems that high-income and low-income students are both sought after in their own way, but middle-income students just aren't.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35301 replies399 threads Senior Member
    An unaccredited high school would pose its own problems for an applicant.

    "So where's the money coming from, if not tuition?" The endowment, supplemented by current-use grants from corporations and foundations, and in some cases, research funds gven to the colleges. Also current profits generated by various activities. Fundraising and grant application writing are an intense part of any college's activities. You may be able to find a top college's annual report and see how the numbers play out.

    Many kids in boarding schools are on financial aid. And the higher the college tier, accomplishments and "it" matter more than just being full pay.
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  • austinmshauriaustinmshauri 9503 replies361 threads Senior Member
    If a college's board commits to increasing the number of low income students of course they want to, and they can afford it. College scholarships come from fundraising, the endowment, alumnae scholarships, and grants. If colleges want to add 5 full ride grants they can commit those funds and increase enrollment by 5. What makes you think they have to cut anybody?
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  • circuitridercircuitrider 3567 replies176 threads Senior Member
    Still, it seems that high-income and low-income students are both sought after in their own way, but middle-income students just aren't
    That's not how need-based colleges see it. They see the proliferation of merit-aid, across the board, among all categories of colleges, as being aimed at middle-class families. Why? Because the middle-class represents the largest pool of high-scoring applicants.

    OTOH, as much as we would like to think that need-blind colleges have an open faucet of available money to whomever the adcoms decide to admit, completely free of biases, the fact of the matter is, these socio-economic ratios are more or less baked in and are relatively predictable. They have to be. No college could prepare a budget without some idea of how its second biggest operating expense is being spent.
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  • roycroftmomroycroftmom 3530 replies40 threads Senior Member
    So elite US colleges regularly claim. One can wonder about the competence of institutions which can not run a business model with the rate of tuition being charged, and overall budgets which massively dwarf budgets (regardless of public or private income source) of similar institutions throughout the world.
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  • BelknapPointBelknapPoint 4845 replies19 threads Senior Member
    SuperSenior19:
    So where's the money coming from, if not tuition? Not all of it is being fundraised. And I would argue that, although tuition from full-pay students isn't paying all of the bills, it's certainly paying a lot of it (along with the money wealthier families end up donating to the school during those fundraising drives) -- or else colleges wouldn't prefer wealthy students.

    1NJParent:
    The elite private universities spend more per student than the full cost of attendance by each student (around $85-90k, according the schools that release such numbers). This means that they subsidize every student's education to some degree, even the full payers. These subsidies come from a variety of sources, but mostly from private sources (government contributions are relatively small). We can certainly argue whether the colleges spend their money wisely, but the full payers aren't paying for the low-income students. They've just been subsidized less.

    ^^^This.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35301 replies399 threads Senior Member
    About being "baked in" and, "No college could prepare a budget without some idea of how its second biggest operating expense is being spent," just saying: this is where Institutional Research depts come in. Many folks think the colleges just look for rich kids, but they know their consituency, who's more likely to apply and, if admitted, matriculate, stick around for four years. And so, also the pools they need to target more actively and what it will take to get the right numbers of them. All inter-related parts of the whole.
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 24099 replies19 threads Senior Member
    Colleges don't have to be need blind for admssions - they choose to be. The admissions people are't trying to figure out who the poor students are and targeting them, unless it is through a program like Questbridge. An address in the Hamptons doesn't mean you are rich as some of those residents are the service people for the rich, the shop owners. My kids went to schools with the children of millionnaires and kids on public assistance - couldn't always tell by the address of zip code.
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