Middle-Income Students ‘Less Represented’ At America’s Top Colleges

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Zachery Schmidt Contributor
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Middle-income student enrollment rates are falling at top colleges, while low-income student enrollment rates have increased.

A study released last week by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) found that middle-income student enrollment at America’s top 200 colleges fell between 2000 and 2016.

The study says “it is middle-income students, not low-income students, who are becoming less represented on these campuses.”

“In terms of middle-class students, it looks like that is the one group we can pretty clearly say from our data is shrinking at these schools,” Jason Delisle, co-author of the study, told The Daily Caller.

In this study, a middle-income student is someone whose family has an income between $26,039 and $99,156 in 2014. The research fellow at AEI said the variation between the years is only a few thousand dollars, which doesn’t change the quartiles that much.

Students whose family’s income fell between $53,788 and $99,156 saw the biggest enrollment drop in America’s top schools. These enrolled students represented 23.7 percent of students in 1999-2000. However, the student’s enrollment rate declined to 16.1 percent in 2015-2016.

The study finds the “middle class may be far more susceptible to the trends and practices that observers worried would shut low-income students out of selective colleges.”

“This whole narrative around low-income students declining as a share of students who are enrolled doesn’t seem right based on the data,” Delisle said.

During this 16-year study period, enrollment for low-income students never decreased. Tuition for these students increased by $1,358. High-income students saw their tuition increase by $8,162, or 64 percent. Raising tuition on high-income students helped maintain tuition rates for low-income students, according to the study.

Low-income students represented 8.1 percent of students in 1999-2000. But that number nearly doubled to 15.1 percent in 2015-2016. The study demonstrates how low-income students are “likely overrepresented” in top U.S. schools.

“There is no evidence to suggest that low-income students are being squeezed out of these schools,” Delisle said.

The study shows that government aid policies and tuition discounts from the school keep tuition low for low-income students.

The top 200 public and private colleges based on admission rates and test scores determined the rankings of the schools used in this study.

Data used in this study came from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), which many of these previous studies never used. Access to the U.S. Department of Education database allowed for the study to “observe the family incomes of students instead of using proxies such as whether students received Pell Grants.”

“It will be interesting to see if people keep pumping out stories and articles saying low-income students are being crowded out. I hope this report gives them some pause before they do that,” Delisle said