Economic diversity priority for universities

When Molly Teague ’15 applied to colleges in 2011, she — like many students across the country — knew the availability of financial aid would play a role in her final decision.

Teague wanted to go to an out-of-state school, but she was aware that the financial burden might be more intense than if she remained in her home state of Florida for college. In her case, however, the College of William and Mary has been able to provide Teague with financial aid and work-study opportunities to make the cost of her education more affordable.

“I’ve always been lucky to get a really generous financial aid package every semester, and without that, it definitely wouldn’t be as feasible, or probably even possible, to come to William and Mary, especially being an out-of-state student,” Teague said.

Teague said her experience receiving financial aid from the College has been positive. Last year, 34 percent of the entering freshman class applied and qualified for need-based aid, according to Interim Associate Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admission Tim Wolfe. Administrators said the school makes an effort to emphasize economic diversity.

Recent studies have also suggested that economic diversity is a key characteristic for colleges across the country.

In September, The New York Times’ “The Upshot” unveiled its College Access Index, which takes into account top college and universities’ share of recent freshmen coming from low-income families — as measured by the number receiving a Pell grant — as well as the net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families.

The College was one of three public universities included on the list, receiving a College Access Index of -0.7. According to the rankings, the College’s net price for low- to middle-income students is $9,300, and the share of the freshman class that received a Pell grant increased from 8 percent in the fall of 2007 to 10 percent between 2012-14.

While the College did see a rise in the number of Pell grant recipients attending, Wolfe said future increases or decreases are difficult to predict as changes to the Pell eligibility guidelines can cause the number to fluctuate even when there is no noticeable change in enrolling student demographics.

Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Henry Broaddus added that calculating the share of Pell grants is not the only method of measuring the College’s economic diversity.

Counting Pell grant recipients is important, but it’s only one way to measure W&M’s success in enrolling students from across the socioeconomic spectrum,” Broaddus said in an email. “One of the biggest beneficiaries of the W&M Promise was the group of in-state students who may not qualify for Pell but certainly qualify as middle-class families in Virginia struggling to meet the increased costs of higher education.”

The William and Mary Promise, approved in Spring 2013, includes “increased affordability and reduced student debt for Virginia families” as a key piece of the resolution. According to the Promise, the model allows the College to increase the amount of need-based financial aid to in-state students by 50 percent over a four-year period, mostly in the form of grants. Through this method, the College plans to lower its net price for low- to middle-income Virginia families.

The net price for low- to middle-income students among schools on The Upshot’s list ranges from $3,000 at Harvard University to $34,700 at Sewanee, with the College’s reported at $9,300. The net price amounts listed for public universities only include in-state students.

“While we are pleased that this number presents us as one of the more affordable options on this list, we also realize that attempting to define affordability through an average net-price is a simplistic approach,” Wolfe said in an email. “Every family’s financial situation is unique, which is why we encourage prospective students to take advantage of our net-price calculator to get a better idea of their specific situations.”

Wolfe added that he expects the College’s net price to decrease further for low- and middle-income families through the impact of the William and Mary Promise.

“A primary goal of the Promise was to increase grants and reduce loans for Virginians with need, regardless of whatever impact doing so may have on lists like this one,” he said.

Tom Kramer ’06, executive director of Virginia21, said he believes the College is doing all it can — given the limitations it faces as a Virginia state school — to prioritize economic diversity. Virginia21 encourages college students to turn out to the polls in higher numbers during statewide elections, as state lawmakers have a direct influence on funding for higher education.

In general, he said the state often does not recognize the financial challenges students encounter in attending college.

“It’s never been more important to have a college degree, but it’s never been more expensive,” Kramer said. “And lawmakers often aren’t taking that seriously.”

Teague agreed that college degrees are incredibly valuable, despite the difficulty many students face in financing their college educations.

“With a school like William and Mary, you definitely get a lot of bang for your buck,” Teague said. “Graduating from here, you get an education that I think is worth every penny, even though it is really, really expensive. I think as hard as it might be during the four years — working a job, sometimes multiple jobs to make it happen — I think down the road you’re not going to regret having done that.”


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