Staff Editorial: Limited Pell grants troubling

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October 5, 2007

1:31 AM

Readers this week will see that the College is tied with Harvard University with 9 percent of enrolled students receiving Pell grants — the fifth lowest total among American colleges and universities. Pell grants are the federal financial aid program for which the neediest students are eligible. These statistics seem to support the assertion that the College is not very socio-economically diverse, and that despite the efforts of the College’s Gateway program and other initiatives to diversify campus, the College still has a ways to go.

p. These figures may seem disconcerting, but they also present the College with an opportunity to advance its reputation and increase the availability of education, both in the state of Virginia and throughout the country. As Economics Professor Robert Archibald, an expert in higher education financing, has pointed out, these statistics do not mean that students at the College are necessarily better off financially than those at other schools where the percentage of students receiving Pell grants is higher — including Duke University, Georgetown University and most Ivy League schools — but rather that the College has been doing a poor job spreading the word about its new programs to students in need.

p. Reaching lower income students is part of a larger necessity for the College to become better known nationwide. While about a third of students at the College are from out-of-state, less than 18 percent of students who are eligible to receive Pell grants hail from outside Virginia. This illustrates the College’s need to expand its interest base to middle- and lower-income areas of other states — areas where the name William and Mary may not resonate as well as it does in Virginia. In many areas, people are academically qualified to attend the College, but may simply be unfamiliar with our school.

p. The total number of applications that the College has received in recent years and our relatively high admission rate are not in line with the traditionally selective nature of this institution. In fact, they are quite poor. Not only will expanding the brand and name of the College to other regions of the country enhance the socio-economic diversity of our school, but it will also generate a popularity that may give the College a boost in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Whether the school increases interest by upping the number of viewbooks it sends to students who take the SATs, attending more high school college fairs in diverse parts of the country or granting application fee waivers to highly qualified students, the admissions office must make a concerted effort to increase the size of the applicant pool.

p. As the quality and breadth of the applicant pool is enhanced, the College will be able to substantially increase its socio-economic diversity and ensure that each class that enters the College remains exceptionally qualified.

p. While an impressive percentage of Pell grant-eligible students admitted to the College choose to attend, the relatively low percentage of students here on Pell grants is something that the College must address. The recent budget cuts make the expansion of expensive financial aid programs difficult, but a considerable public relations campaign that reaches beyond the boundaries of Virginia may provide solutions to a number of the College’s critical problems. Establishing the Gateway program and other initiatives is a fine start. Now the College must spread the word.

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