Senior Nathan Foster, one of TCU's three trustee representatives, poses for a portrait in the Mayer Campus Center on Apr. 6, 2018. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

Tufts publishes previously unavailable data on economic diversity

Tufts’ Office of Institutional Research and Evaluation (OIRE) recently published previously unavailable data on economic diversity of Tufts’ student body, according to senior and TCU Senate Trustee Representative Nathan Foster. Foster noted that the data on Tufts’ economic diversity was first released to TCU Senate at Foster’s request and then was released to the general public. 

Foster explained that he had co-sponsored the resolution passed by TCU Senate that placed several demands on Tufts’ administration with regards to affordability.

“[We asked] Tufts to limit increases in the total student charge, which is the average amount the student paid once financial aid is taken into account … [and] also to increase or at least maintain the percentage of the students coming from the bottom 40 [percent] each year,” Foster said.

Foster further explained that the data was needed to push for progressive measures on a resolution recently passed by TCU Senate. The resolution focused on limiting the increase in tuition.

“That kind of resolution … makes sure that Tufts stays affordable and maintains its existing levels of economic diversity or improve from where they started. To do those things you need data for it,” Foster explained.

Foster noted that there has been an increase in the number of students from the bottom 20 percent since 2012, in which only fifteen students from that income quintile who were matriculated.

“[The data shows that] 75 percent of Class of 2021 students come from the top 20 percent of income-earning families, 18 percent come from the bottom 60 percent, only 3.8 percent come from the bottom 20 percent income earning families … in 2012, Tufts only enrolled 15 students from the bottom 20 percent,” Foster said. He added that in his calculations, it was assumed that students who did not apply for financial aid came from families in the top income quintile.

Alejandro Baez, a first-year, told the Daily that as a first generation and low-income student, the data disappoints him. Baez explained that the university has a duty to increase economic diversity on campus.

The data affects me as a student because it makes me feel more alienated; the fact that there aren’t a lot of people who hold my identities (first generation, low-income) frustrates [me] … I would like to believe that Tufts is inclusive of all economic backgrounds due to their various programming aimed at first generation, low-income success, but while I do appreciate this, I don’t believe it’s enough,” Baez told the Daily in an email.

Amira Al-Subaey, a junior and Tufts Student Action (TSA) member, shared her opinion on the data and shared Baez’s belief that it is the university’s job to increase economic diversity on campus.

“If Tufts really has a commitment to supporting low-income students and making Tufts’ college experience accessible, then that starts with the cost of tuition,” she said. “This is what [the administration is] paid hundreds and thousands of dollars to do … [The administration has] the responsibility to be transparent and to increase accessibility as well.”

Foster instead attributed the lack of economic diversity to the larger economy. He also explained that Tufts has not employed a need-blind policy, one that does not factor income in the decision-making process, since a decade ago.

“Tufts hasn’t been need-blind ever since 2008. My understanding was that they were unofficially need-blind in 2007 and 2008 … and then the recession hit and so they stopped [being] unofficially need-blind,” Foster explained.

Jessica Sharkness, director of the OIRE, said “similar data” was always available on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) website. She explained that the data on the OIRE website was released because due to both Foster’s request and the discussion of such data at a town hall meeting on Dec. 6, 2017.

“After showing these data at the town hall, and after follow-up conversations with Nathan Foster, we realized that this report was of broad interest to the university community. We thus updated the information to include Fall 2017, formatted it for publication on the web, and posted it in the interest of making the information available to the community in the context of its ongoing discussion about tuition rates,” Sharkness told the Daily in an email.

Ava Ciosek, a first-year and TSA member, explained that the release of the data on economic diversity furthers the goals of TSA’s #HaltTheHike campaign.

“One [of TSA’s] key goals is transparency, and [the release of this data] is getting closer to the administration being more transparent with who is at school,” Ciosek explained. “[Still,] in terms of financially, we are trying to get them to be more transparent about the budgeting.”

Al-Subaey explained that such experiences are likely to become more common as tuition increases.

“Something a lot of low-income students and students of color can relate to is often [you are] the only one in your class or in your study group,” Al-Subaey explained. “As tuition continues to go up, accessibility inherently goes down and because of that, we have a much wealthier student body.”

Ciosek added that one of TSA’s goals is to have Tufts implement a “tuition-freeze policy.”

“Tuition freeze is the tuition you enter with during your freshman year [and] is what you would get during all your four years of school … instead of it increasing by a certain amount every year … there has been a lot of schools that have gone on this trend and doesn’t cause a deficit or they lose money if they go through a tuition freeze,” Ciosek said.

Sharkness added that the data on economic diversity does not imply that financial aid is awarded solely based on family income.

“This report does not mean to imply that family income is the only factor taken into consideration in financial aid awards. All financial aid is awarded on the basis of financial need,” Sharkness said.

Sharkness also added that the university has a commitment to meeting 100 percent of all the students accepted and on financial aid. She shared that the data show that Tufts’ economic diversity has improved over the years.

“One interesting thing the data shows is that since 2011, the number of students enrolled at Tufts who come from families in the lowest two income quintiles has more than doubled, while the amount that these students pay has been halved,” Sharkness said.

Al-Subaey said while she appreciates that the OIRE released the data on economic diversity, she believes that there is still much more work to be done. Al-Subaey credited the release of such data to student activism around affordability.

“I think there is still a long way to go and I think that it is a good first step and has to be recognized that it is the result of … student labor and administrative pushback that … we have this data,” Al-Subaey said.

Sharkness noted that the university is committed to increasing the accessibility of higher education through their “Brighter World” capital campaign.

“Each year Tufts awards over $86 million in financial aid to members of the undergraduate student body. Increasing the financial aid budget has been a major priority of President Monaco’s administration — the financial aid budget continues to grow at a rate faster than the increase in tuition — and broadening access to Tufts is a key component of the current capital campaign,” Sharkness explained.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Tufts admitted 15 students from the bottom 20% income quintile, while in fact that statistic applies to the number of students who enrolled. The article has also been updated to clarify that Al-Subaey is not a first-generation student. The Daily regrets these errors.

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