In today’s knowledge-based economy, higher education has become increasingly important in influencing social and economic prosperity. Unfortunately, education is an opportunity that is still not afforded to many. In an effort to alleviate this problem, colleges have tried to implement policies such as affirmative action to increase racial diversity. To increase socio-economic diversity, they have used tools such as Pell Grants and need blind admissions. In the TSL’s “A Tale of Two CMCs,” Carlos Ballesteros argues that CMC has actively sought to exclude low-income minority students from the student body. Ballesteros points out that, as international student admission numbers have risen, the admission of low-income minority students has fallen. This is relevant since CMC does not offer any financial aid to international students outside of merit scholarships, implying that international students have financial means that many others do not. He also states that, as this change has occurred, the college has simultaneously ended relations with Quest Bridge and Posse (two highly selective scholarship programs for low-income minorities). This, Ballesteros argues, supports his belief that CMC is cynically replacing low-income students with wealthy international students. There are, however, two problems in his analysis.
At the beginning of the article, Ballesteros tries to establish an implausible causal link in the general correlation between the rise of international students and decrease in low-income students; however, as we are told so many times in our statistics classes, correlation does not signify causation. A more plausible hypothesis could be that the overall number of low-income students applying to CMC has decreased in the aftermath of the Great Recession. According to the College Board’s college guidance outlines, many first generation students are not very knowledgeable about the college application process and/or are pressured to enter the workforce earlier. Keeping this in mind, due to the Great Recession and the slow recovery afterward, many low-income students probably entered the workforce instead of going to college, or opted for a more practical, skill-based education at a larger state school. Furthermore, research has shown that low-income students are less likely to apply to college in general (Fitzgerald and Delaney 2002; McDonough 1997; McDonough 1998), and are also less likely to enroll at more elite colleges (Bowen and Bok 1998; Hurtado et al. 1997)
Ballesteros also fails to give a full picture of economic diversity by limiting the scope of argument to the number of Pell grant recipients,. This is because Pell grants are fundamentally limited in their ability to measure economic diversity. Pell Grants are granted based on financial need versus cost of the school, and up to $50,000 in income. The maximum amount of funds that a student can receive through Pell grants amounts to exactly $5730. This equates to approximately 13% of CMC’s $45,000 tuition. Considering that this is such a small portion of CMC’s tuition, it is conceivable that falling Pell grant rates might actually mean that many low-income students are simply pursuing better scholarship options. Ballesteros’ argument also presupposes that the decreasing numbers of Pell grant recipients enrolled at CMC automatically implies a decrease in “economic diversity.” However, as David Leonhardt of Upshot says, “A college that enrolls many students from families making $75,000 a year may be somewhat more economically diverse than a college with an identical share of Pell recipients but fewer middle-income students.” Therefore, a better, more accurate measure of economic diversity would be calculating the number of students in each income bracket.
Additionally, Ballesteros critiques CMC’s decision to end partnerships with Questbridge and Posse as another example of CMC replacing low-income students with international ones. For those who do not know, Questbridge and Posse are full scholarship programs for low-income, high-achieving students and only partner with 35 and 51 colleges, respectively (which is a very small percentage of the 3500+ degree granting institutions in the US). Questbridge and Posse, while great programs, are also highly competitive. According to statistics from the Questbridge website, in 2013 there were 12,818 applicants to the Questbridge program. Of those applying, only 440 became finalists who were offered admission and college match scholarships. If considered a finalist, Questbridge will match the student to a partner school that they believe is a good fit for them. Many low-income students believe that Questbridge and other related programs are the only way to pay for college, but, in fact, if these students applied to many of the partner schools independently, they would have a better chance of attending that school. This is because many colleges, like CMC, offer 100% of demonstrated need. By ending their partnership with Questbridge and Posse, CMC (whose admissions are need-blind) allows low-income students to apply directly to the school they wish to attend and have a better chance to receive the money they need to attend college.
Finally, the author proposes that one solution to alleviating the decreasing number of low-income students enrolled in CMC is an income-based affirmative action policy as a solution that, like race-based affirmative action, only treats the symptoms of a broken education system. Educational equality goes beyond equating the number of students admitted in one demographic to students admitted of another demographic. The author’s entire argument falsely rests upon the assumption that the only diversity international kids bring is in the different currencies they carry. I would like to point out that, regardless of socio-economic background, international students come from an entirely different country. They bring different perspectives and experiences, which no American, regardless of socio-economic background or race could replicate. Surely, need-blind admissions policy, which CMC has, coupled with educational system reform, is a more equitable solution.