Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Washington University Trying to Catch Up on Low-Income Enrollment

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Washington University Trying to Catch Up on Low-Income Enrollment

Article excerpt

For generations, low-income students didn't dare dream of attending the nation's completely-out-of-reach elite colleges.

State institutions weren't free, but at least with some grants and scholarships they were within reach for the majority of students from poor and middle-income families.

Times have changed.

As states have cut back spending and tuition for public universities has kept climbing, state schools are increasingly hard to afford. Even good students coming out of poor-performing high schools often struggle with college courses. The dropout rate is high.

And top-ranked schools have discovered that low-income, academically superior students have something they want. They say the students enrich their campuses, inspire higher levels of academic achievement and improve inter-group relations. Fortune 500 companies say diversity is good for their bottom line, which is another persuasive argument to make to college administrators.

These institutions have not traditionally enrolled a large number of low-income students. But they now have their sights trained on attracting them.

Educators and administrators praise the benefits of diversity of all types racial, ethnic, sexual and economic. They say diversity acts as a catalyst for the future workforce, reflects the nation in which we live, encourages collaboration and fosters innovation. At service academies and officer training schools, diversity adds to the strength of the armed forces and aids national security.

Washington University has been very slow to catch on to these benefits. Now it's playing catch-up to many of the nation's other top colleges in recruiting talented low-income students.

Washington University is now ranked 14th in the popular U.S. News & World Report rankings of the top schools in the country. Getting there included adopting a strategy that has been successful at other top-notch colleges.

It selectively targeted affluent students with high test scores and lured them with scholarships and grant money that might otherwise have gone to low-income students. Washington University bypassed many low-income students who were not as academically prepared and would not have boosted the school's ranking.

Just as it did at other schools, the strategy worked. Over several decades, the college climbed steadily upward in the rankings. Washington University stood out for some wrong reasons, too.

Namely, its dismal percentage compared to similar universities of low-income students eligible for federal grants. It's now roughly 7 percent; university officials say they want to increase that to about 13 percent, the Post-Dispatch's Koran Addo reported Monday.

Holden Thorp, the university's top academic officer, told Mr. Addo that it could take 10 to 12 years to boost the school's low- income student population to the level the university wants. …

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