USA TODAY: JKCF and Vassar on Need for Economic Diversity in College

Elite colleges need economic diversity: Column

Catharine Bond Hill and Harold Levy

May 12, 2015


Pursuing talented, low-income students can renew economic mobility in America.

(Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USAT)

The American Dream may end up being more myth than reality, with our rising income inequality and stagnant economic mobility. As many high school seniors are learning about their college acceptances, the difficult financial decisions that families face are a timely reminder of the key role higher education must play in turning this tide.

Absent changes in p

ublic policies, colleges and universities must act decisively to help the nation address its socioeconomic challenges because access to education is the foremost path out of poverty. Our nation’s most selective institutions of higher education have a particular role to play because at too many of these schools, enrollment of talented lower-income students lags behind the sizeable pool of these promising young people.

A number of schools, including Vassar College, have made significant financial aid commitments to meet this challenge and have shown significant results. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation recently awarded to the college its inaugural Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence, a $1 million prize, to acknowledge its leadership among elite colleges in enrolling and recruiting students who are eligible for federal Pell grants. Roughly 23% of Vassar’s freshmen are eligible to receive a federal Pell grant, a measure that has risen 11 percentage points since 2008. The college will use the Cooke Prize to continue its work in recruiting and supporting low-income students.

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Catharine Bond Hill is the president of Vassar College and Harold Levy is the executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.