College administrations love claiming that they want people of all socioeconomic backgrounds to attend their schools. This makes sense as overall trends show affordability has become increasingly important to those searching for the perfect university. This also leads to many universities adding affordability to their list of attributes.
Furman University’s website claims students can “Earn [their degree] from one of South Carolina's most prestigious universities — for an affordable price.” Davidson University encourages students to contact financial aid experts to ensure affordability. Elon University states in the website's cost and financial aid section that “[The university] maintains its affordable cost through a careful strategy.”
These claims lead both current and prospective students to believe their schools are doing the most to achieve socioeconomic diversity on their campuses, but unfortunately, these claims are just that: claims with no real facts or actions to back them up.
Data posted by The New York Times in January 2017 showed that 38 colleges in the nation had more students coming from families with incomes in the top one percent (making over $630,000 a year) than they had students from families in the bottom 60 percent.
Furman was ranked 34th, with 16.2 percent of their student body in the top one percent and 15.5 percent coming from the bottom 60 percent. Davidson came in 33rd with 17.4 percent coming from the top 1 percent and 16.4 percent coming from the bottom 60 percent.
So where exactly did Elon fall? In 15th place.
That’s right, Elon is 15th highest in the nation for most top one percent students vs. lower 60 percent students, with a gap of 14 percent of students coming from the top one percent and 9.2 percent coming from the bottom 60 percent.
For Elon, this gap has only increased over time, which begs the question: what are schools actually doing to ensure socioeconomic diversity? Actually, finding the initiatives used to increase enrollment of students from low- and middle-class families is incredibly difficult.
With all that said, many people, especially students, ask why socioeconomic diversity is even relevant. In the eyes of many, the lack of low- and middle-income students enrolled in higher education programs, especially private colleges and universities, isn’t even a problem. They ask these questions because they do not know what they’re missing out on by not attending school with students of a variety socioeconomic backgrounds.
A piece written two years ago in The New York Times and expanded on by the Association of American Colleges and Universities discusses one of the most crucial reasons this type of diversity is needed. It is often assumed that initiatives that assist low- and middle-income students in attending college is about those students alone. In reality, as the articles state, this diversity is a “favor to us all ... It’s a plus for richer students, who are then exposed to a breadth of perspectives that lies at the heart of the truest, best education.”
The over 500 students at Elon that receive Pell Grants have a perspective on life so astronomically different from a student who will never have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is not a bad thing, not by a long shot. Rather, this is a learning opportunity, a chance for all students to engage in discussions they may not have had until much later on in their lives if at all.
For the sake of all students, colleges and universities, including Elon, need to work harder to provide students with the educational opportunity of experiencing as many diverse perspectives as possible. This starts with ending claims of affordability, recognizing the issues at hand and working with students to find the best way to make this socioeconomic diversity happen at their institutions.