BY ABBY BAKER '19
In the last decade, American universities along with the United States government have made strides to make college more accessible.
However, a new study conducted by the Equality of Opportunity Project examined the success, or lack thereof, of American colleges in constructing economically diverse student bodies. The study revealed that the majority of elite universities are disproportionately comprised of students from affluent backgrounds. 38 American colleges were found to enroll more students from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the bottom 60 percent.
Colleges were ranked according to the ratio between students from the top 1 percent and bottom 60 percent. On the list of over 1,000 colleges, Mount Holyoke was ranked 226, with 5.2 percent of its students from the top 1 percent of wealth and 30.8 percent from the bottom 60 percent of wealth.
A Mount Holyoke first year who receives financial aid and comes from a single-income family said, "I think they try, but they definitely could try harder... There could be more, especially helping with finding cheaper textbooks."
Victoria Parrish '19, who receives merit aid, said, "I've heard from others that Mount Holyoke was their best choice of school because it was fiscally more manageable. Mount Holyoke and the government provide subsidizing towards their education. I like to think that Mount Holyoke does that for its students, but of course there's always a limit on how much money they can give."
Bryn Mawr, another of the Seven Sisters, was ranked sixth in the nation in terms of enrolling the highest percentage of lower and middle-income students (13.7 percent of the student body is from the bottom 40 percent). Mount Holyoke is not listed in the New York Times article, but would rank higher than Bryn Mawr and Barnard at 16.1 percent. A Bryn Mawr sophomore who requested anonymity said, "Bryn Mawr, in comparison to other higher educational institutions, does have a more varied economic background. In my experience, this sort of makeup of the student body is an extremely beneficial thing for education experiences on the whole."
She added that "there is also very real criticism that while we do have a more diverse economic background, Bryn Mawr likes to brag about this fact rather than taking measures to increase the amount of low and middle-income students here."
Indeed, many colleges advertise affordability and economic diversity as part of the school's appeal. However, as Danny Yagan, an assistant professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley and one of the authors of the study noted, there is a distinction between making colleges affordable to low-income families and expanding access to college for low-income families. Yagan told The New York Times, "Free tuition only helps if you can get in."
According to the study, while approximately one in four students from the most affluent backgrounds attend an elite university, less than one-half of 1 percent of students from American families in the bottom fifth economic tier attend an elite college.
The study also measured the role of colleges in promoting economic mobility. The statistics were measured based on the percentage of students from lower-income families who ended up in the top 40 percent from the college classes of 2002 to 2004. Mount Holyoke's social mobility was 9.4 percent, compared to that of the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, which was ranked first in terms of promoting mobility with 43.9 percent.
Although the anonymous first year student sees her Mount Holyoke education as worth the economic burden, she still admitted that "Massachusetts is an educational superpower."