Gray Areas Matter: Socioeconomic diversity at Tufts

It’s no secret that Tufts has a particularly wealthy student body. According to data from The New York Times, the median family income at Tufts is an astounding $224,800, placing the average student comfortably in the top 15% of the nation’s demographic, and the student body itself in 10th place for highest median family income out of 2,395 colleges. Let’s talk about the impacts of such a wealthy student body, and why this university needs to be doing more to recruit low-income students. 

Students of low socioeconomic status (SES) actually face challenges that other minority students don’t face. Of course there are the shared struggles revolving around self-identity within a homogeneous space, but the problems that low SES students deal with regularly are fairly unique, as are their solutions. For example, according to Yale University, low SES students may have a “limited repertoire of learning strategies available to them” and are prone to perform poorly on “standardized testing due to stereotype threat.” Research from the University of Pennsylvania shows that low-income students are at a severe disadvantage in college before they even begin applying to schools. When college admissions officers embark on their national tours to recruit applicants, they generally avoid rural areas in favor of urban schools. In doing so, whole swaths of rural high school students are left with very little education about the college process, especially about what kind of financial aid is available. High school counselors in those regions are generally lower paid and often overworked as well. The result is that students in rural areas often end up enrolling in cheap state and community colleges despite the fact that more rigorous universities would be better able to meet their needs. Thus the most prestigious universities enroll richer kids, and the less prestigious ones enroll poorer kids.

Tufts is particularly guilty of poor socioeconomic diversity, even relative to other highly selective peers. Of the schools that U.S. News & World Report ranks and considers national universities, Tufts’ student body has the fourth lowest percentage of Pell Grant recipients, at only 10%. That’s lower than every single elite research university in the U.S. Even more stunning is that nearly one in five students at Tufts are from the economic top 1%.

The lack of socioeconomic diversity doesn’t necessarily harm middle and upper class students, but it certainly hurts the few students at Tufts who aren’t. College graduation rates are consistently lower for low-income students than others, and research shows that low SES students in high-income student bodies are more likely to consider dropping out. Increasing the number of low-income students at Tufts can only do good things. The financial burden that the university would pick up is very real and certainly too complex for me to have any grounds of explaining away. Regardless, I think that the university owes it to the kids who haven’t been provided the same opportunities as their wealthy peers for their entire lives to make an effort to recruit them to this university.


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