Lacking economic diversity emphasizes university’s negative stereotype

Brendan Lyman, Staff Reporter

The following is an opinion article and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Tulane has embarked on a long road to expand diversity institutionally, but discussions have focused primarily on racial diversity. This narrow mindset has resulted in a lack of economic diversity, which impedes the university’s goal by decreasing overall diversity.

Tulane identifies assets, strengths and challenges within the university in relation to diversity and inclusion, but it only takes a glance around campus to realize a driving factor in Tulane’s diversity issues. 

Richard Péres-Peña wrote in a New York Times article titled “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” Aug. 25 that the rate of lower income students attending elite private universities is “roughly the same percentage as a generation ago.” The lack of growth in the number of lower-income students attending these universities, Tulane included, stems from the lack of students attending from marginalized populations including students of color and students from rural areas. Yet the importance of these students on elite campuses cannot be understated, as it provides both a better learning experience and is a vital engine of social mobility.

Two of the largest hurdles qualified low-income students face when aiming for elite universities are cost and awareness. During the last 25 years there has been a shift away from need-based financial aid in favor of merit-based financial aid. From the standpoint of lower income students, a $60,000 school is inaccessible even with a $32,000 merit scholarship.

According to U.S. News and World Report, roughly 52 percent of Tulane’s student body applies for need-based aid. More surprisingly, according to U.S. News, only 38 percent of Tulane students who apply receive need-based aid. In contrast, 80 percent of students receive merit-based aid. These statistics show that most Tulane students receive significant aid from merit-based awards. These statistics are evidence that lower-income students are a minority on Tulane’s campus.

Increasing economic access alone does not ensure a higher enrollment rate of lower-income students. Vassar College President Catharine Bond Hill told The New York Times having need-blind admissions and being accessible to low-income students is not enough. There has to be a commitment to recruiting students from low-income families.

Hill’s point is that breaking down the perception that a school is inaccessible to low-income students means connecting with those students in a personal way and exposing them to the opportunities the school offers. This might seem like a herculean task for an admissions office, but it is the first step in obtaining a truly diverse student body.

There are concrete steps, which if done correctly, will increase the university’s economic diversity. First, Tulane can restructure its need-based aid system by increasing student access and resources. Tulane will then continue to see students qualifying for federal funds, including a continued increase in Pell Grant recipients and work-study awards.  

Tulane has already increased outreach to lower-income students through the Posse Foundation, a program designed to train qualified student leaders who might have been overlooked by the normal selection process and assist them in college enrollment and affordability. Tulane’s involvement in these programs, however, diversifies our student body, but the university can and must do more. Tulane should work more closely with local non-profit organizations and recruit more students from typically marginalized areas, like Appalachia.

To make Tulane’s strategic plan succeed, Undergraduate Admissions must realize the significant correlation between economic diversity and overall diversity. It must reallocate resources and refocus its goals to not only achieve “inclusive excellence” but to become a home for students from all walks of life to further their education. Only when this goal is accomplished will Tulane break away from the stereotype of an elite, private university and unlock its potential to create a new standard for higher education.

Brendan Lyman is a senior in the Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached for comment at [email protected]