On Jan. 18, the New York Times published an article analyzing the income distribution of students in various colleges. The article, based on a recent study, showed that 38 colleges and universities in the United States had more students from the top one percent of the income scale than from the bottom 60 percent. Ranked in order based on the largest difference between students from these two groups, Tufts was placed 10th. According to the article, 18.6 percent of students at Tufts belong to the top one percent, while only 11.8 belong to the bottom 60.
These statistics, while disappointing, are not shocking. Most students would acknowledge that the vast majority of their peers on campus are economically privileged. Furthermore, the comprehensive fees and costs of attending Tufts amount to approximately $68,200 a year for students who do not commute, while the definition of the bottom 60 percent of income distribution is a household earning less than $65,000 a year. However, this fact does not excuse Tufts from its lack of economic diversity, particularly when other universities with a similar cost and endowment, such as Vassar College, are on the list of elite colleges that enroll the highest percentage of low-income students.
This issue has implications far beyond Tufts and addresses the broader importance of obtaining higher education in the modern world. Overall, those without a college degree end up making significantly less than their college-educated counterparts. According to the Washington Post, a man with a high school diploma would earn 15 percent more than the median salary in 1965, but in 2012 a man with a high school diploma and no bachelor’s degree would earn 20 percent less than the median salary. For women, the difference is greater: 40 percent more in 1965 and 24 percent less in 2012.
At the same time, the college enrollment gap between low-income and high-income students has increased over the last few years. A recent report by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education states that 77 percent of students from the top family income quartile earned a bachelor’s degree in 2013, compared to only nine percent of those in the bottom quartile. Yet, when low-income students do attend college, their chances of social mobility skyrocket. Low-income students who graduate from selective colleges often end up doing almost as well as their high-income peers. According to the Times article, low-income children who attended elite colleges eventually found themselves in the 70th-75th percentile for income, on average. These numbers suggest that college education could reverse the increasing income inequality we have seen in the United States in the last few decades. For this reason, it is all the more important that Tufts and similar universities increase their efforts to admit low-income students.
It is true that the economic college enrollment gap is a systemic issue that starts with K-12 schools and makes its way up to higher education. However, this does not mean that Tufts cannot take specific measures in order to stop being a part of this problem. One way to combat this is through need-blind admissions. Tufts has found it necessary to operate under a need-aware system of financial aid, using financial need as a decision factor in the final five percent of applications, according to a 2009 Daily article. While it may seem that five percent is not enough to make a difference, it very well could be that many of those 850 students affected by this decision came from low-income households. Furthermore, studies show that a need-blind policy attracts students from lower-income backgrounds and boosts diversity on college campuses.
The Tufts community often engages in important discourse regarding the inclusivity of different cultures, languages and sexual orientations. It is time to ensure that our community is just as concerned and aware of economic inclusivity.