The University of Chicago Tries to Catch Up on Economic Diversity

Among wealthy colleges, Chicago enrolls relatively few lower-income students. But a new program may change the situation.

Comments: 22

  1. Better late than never.

  2. Chicago's low ranking on economic diversity is surprising given its push for outreach since 2005 (e.g., it hired someone called Michelle Obama as its vice president for community and external affairs for its hospitals).

    So why is that? One factor may be that there is a limited pool of qualified low-income applicants, and while admitted to Chicago, they choose to go elsewhere, namely all those schools that ranked above Chicago in resources and reputation: Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Yale.

    That is to say, it is not surprising that the rank of economic diversity also tracks pretty well the rank by reputation. Afterall, that certain Michelle Obama also chose Princeton over Chicago for her college.

    Rather, she didn't even apply to Chicago. Chicago's latest efforts will try to get the Michelle Obamas to apply.

    It isn't that Chicago is doing badly in economic diversity, it's just that it's direct competition -- the Ivies, Stanford, MIT -- is doing better.

  3. This is so true, the limited pool, plus, the Ivy's are doing very well offering that financial aid. What would be wrong is to give need based money to students who don't have the grades to get into U of Chicago. A lot of schools end up with need based aid students who need remedial classes, and should have taken them before college. This tells me, "not college material" just someone biding their time.

  4. You note that the "rank of economic diversity also tracks pretty well the rank by reputation." This begs the question: are we looking at the same graph? According to the graph in this article, Cornell, Penn, Brown, Duke, etc. are all above Yale and Princeton. Wouldn't your analysis (that economic diversity tracks reputation) put Yale and Princeton above the aforementioned schools? How are Penn and Cornell - schools with arguably "lesser" nationally recognized reputation vis a vis Yale and Princeton, coming up with more Pell Grant recipients?

    For me, the analysis is as follows: the elite schools are clumped together. Yale and Princeton, for example, only have 12.5% and 12.8% of their student bodies receiving Pell grants. This is barely higher than UChicago's 11.5% stat. Brown and Harvard have a little separation from most, but the bulk of the schools all have under-represented numbers of low-income students.

    When the high is 17%, and the "low" is 11.5%, it looks like, to me, that all the schools are pretty much in the same boat.

    HD, Chicago is doing about the same as most of its peers (unless you feel the difference in a few percentage points is that significant). In truth, all elite schools are lagging in their representation of lower income students, and they all lag at around the same pace. Chicago's efforts - if it lives up to its word - put the school in the driver's seat to try and turn the tide.

  5. "Reputation" isn't just academic reputation, it's selectivity, student body, etc. On those 2 factors alone, it's not surprising P and Y are so low on the ranking compared to CCP. As for Chicago, all it takes is for HYP, S and M each to take one student away from C for C to fall dramatically in ranking.

  6. "Chicago has more resources than Vassar, Emory, Brown, Columbia, Penn, Wesleyan, Cornell or Johns Hopkins, but enrolls fewer Pell students than any of them"

    Can't blame them of being inconsistent with the philosophy espoused by their economics department...

  7. I misread the title and thought that Chicago's Economics Department would become more diverse. Some Keynesians among the freshwater crowd would have a welcome effect of ending another monoculture, not of skin but of thought, but it seems now we have to wait for that ...

  8. It sounds as if the "new scholarships for underserved and underrepresented groups" will discriminate in favor of or against students based on non-economic circumstances—race and ethnicity—over which they have no control.

  9. Under represented groups means the poor, whatever race.

  10. No. It means "underrepresented" ethnic or racial groups. Follow the link and read the announcement. Application fees will be eliminated for all low-income students and all low-income students will be eligible for grants, but in addition scholarships will be set aside for underrepresented groups, meaning racial and ethnic minorities.

  11. They need to teach more economic theory than the Chicago School or the Austrian School. Both theories have been found wanting and have been demonstrated to be harming society. Those socioeconomic beliefs are flawed and need to be re-examined. However, there is a lock on those theories in most university at the moment and proponents of other theories are refused hire. What the policies derived form those schools of thought have done is concentrate wealth in the top tier and causing unnecessary hardship for everyone else. At least, teach Maynard Keynes and maybe even examine Marx.

  12. When I went there in the late 70's I knew a lot of people from less than privileged background. My own parent were just barely middle-middle class, and I had friends there from pretty poor backgrounds. My own financial aid was both grants and loans, I graduated in the early 80's with less than $9,000 out in loans.Tuition was also lower then it was for the Ivies. The notable thing was how nerdy and smart all the students were. I loved it. Since then they seem to have taken a more money-hungry less intellectual route. It is a shame. It would be nice to see them go back to being intellectual first and foremost and to make it accessible to anyone with the mental horsepower.

  13. I went there. Even then, it had the reputation of being very stingy with financial aid. The excuse was they had a smaller endowment than any Ivy or MIT and Stanford, and had to pay faculty just as much. Faculty prestige before student need.

    Worst cases were bringing students in with good aid packages, then cutting it even if they did well. Happened quite often. Not fair, not just, irresponsible. If they offer better aid to the poor now, they better make it guaranteed for four years so long as the grades are good. Otherwise I'd still tell those kids to go elsewhere.

  14. "Among those, Chicago is a fairly wealthy institution. Its endowment per student exceeds $400,000." The way to attract a diversity of socioeconomic levels is thru Merit Scholarships. That is what they did when the baby boomers went to college, it is what they should return to. What the current policies result in, is a layer of students from the poorest families, and the very wealthy. Nothing in between, and this is why the kids think you are either very rich or very poor. The middle class students attracted by merit, their grades from high school and the ACT would give a lot of diversity. And when attracting PELL grant students, the government needs to put a minimum cut off, at least one ACT/SAT score of 600, to be college worthy, and only one year academic probation. Parents don't let kids flunk out and still pay more the next year, the government should not either. And finally, The University of Chicago, needs to demonstrate FULL paying parents that they don't charge THEM for other people's children's tuition. USE that endowment for everyone, that is what it is for!

  15. It will be important to keep our eye on this program. Hopefully, it will be in the tradition of their ground-breaking and principled President Robert Maynard Hutchins ('29-'45).

    Unfortunately, though, nowadays many universities take a call to improving almost anything as a call to improving only their marketing about how hard they are already improving that thing. It's a lot cheaper than actually making the improvements.

    Chicago almost succumbed to marketing to "consumers" in 1998, but powerful faculty members resisted - and the president was replaced. (See the story with links to NY Times articles at ""Content Deflation” Part II: University of Chicago Felt the Heat" on my blog inside-higher-ed.com )

    Some schools actually publicize misleading data to market that they are improving access. (For an example, see "Washington U. in St. Louis Touts Their Reduction in Net Financial Aid" - also on my blog.)

    I am hopeful about U. of Chicago. But as, someone once said, "Trust, but Verify"; well, ok, in today's higher education climate, maybe we should change that to: verify.

  16. So - if U of Chicago is successful - more low income students will obtain grants...
    And this will lower the number of students receiving Pell Grants at U of Chicago...
    And they will fare worse on your well-thought out graphic: Economic Diversity at Elite Colleges.
    Somewhat of a Sisyphean dilemma - n'est ce pas?

  17. No. Chicago will continue to take Pell grants from every student eligible to receive them.

  18. Let's not forget - more low income means fewer to no middle class kids, those who can pay will pay more. Middle class parents can't afford top notch schools now. It is a zero sum game.

  19. $8400 is an excellent deal--compared to the sticker price of $55k+.
    But where is a family making $30,000 supposed to come up with that kind of cash?

  20. It would have been better if the author and publish this article before the university's announcement. The record is not good, however apparently the university is attempting to make it better. I hope it succeeds. Remember, however, that the University of Chicago is primarily a graduate school. The college is a relatively small part of it.

  21. The problem is still the admission rate, which this year was slightly above 8 percent at University of Chicago. My daughter applied to U of C (after receiving dozens of recruitment letters and even a T-shirt). She is an honor student and was active in high school, made 31 on her ACT, qualified for a Pell grant, is bi-racial (white and Native American), and has an older sibling who attended law school at U of C -- all qualities that should help catch the attention of the admissions office. However, she was wait-listed and then officially turned down; my daughter now attends a state university. There are lower-income students applying at all the elite universities. There are just a limited number of seats. If you are not admitted, it doesn't matter how much money is available for lower-income students.

  22. I got into the University of Chicago in 2000. I was a very low income black student and never had money to visit, so the first time I went was when they sent me a plane ticket to go to the admitted student's weekend.

    The place was miserable. There were almost no black people to speak of and every social grouping was completely racially segregated. For some reason U of C gave all of the black admitted students black hosts (until they ran out of black hosts because there were so few black students at the college!) as if we wouldn't know how to socialize with people from other races. All of the other black 'prospies' appeared to be upper middle class and though I was low income I had gone to an all white private school on scholarship. U of C wouldn't give me a financial aid package until I put my father's income on my financial aid application. I repeatedly told them that I hadn't seen my father in 10 years and there was no chance of me getting a hold of his tax records. The concept was beyond their comprehension. They asked for proof that he wasn't in my life.

    I decided I didn't want to go to a school where I would be the lone black girl in all of my classes and in segregated social circles like it was the 1950s or where the administration had no idea how to accommodate poor people. Sometimes the reason low income and minority students don't go to these schools is that they realize the schools aren't healthy environments for us. I said screw it and went to NYU.