Image from Pexels.

When checking out rankings and researching school qualities, socioeconomic diversity might not be a priority consideration for most prospective students. But in reality, it can serve as a great indicator of a college’s culture and student body. Some students will come from a family background where paying the full sticker price of college is fiscally feasible and other students require grants and financial assistance to attend school. The spectrum of socioeconomic background is a broad one, and every campus will have a unique student body. Much like the value-added factor, economic diversity isn’t necessarily automatically linked to the most prestigious schools. In fact, smaller schools you may not have heard of top the list in terms of range and diversity.

It’s not just a buzz word.

As Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post argues, “If higher education in America is to continue to contribute to equal opportunity and economic mobility, not only do its leaders need to make more places available across the entire system, the highly selective institutions need to do their fair share by educating a more socioeconomically diverse student body.” Socioeconomic diversity is essential in promoting greater access and mobility to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Schools that prioritize inclusive campuses have a great impact in increasing accessibility and mobility.

Benefits of an economically diverse campus:

Finding the right “fit” is essential. Much of this “fit” relies on the composition of the student body. Schools with a greater proportion of high-income students might result in low-income students feeling alienated or out-of-place. (TP Writer Jackson Ingram writes about the experience that low-income students often navigate in high-income campuses in this article.) But colleges with a large student-body population of low-income students might have more thinly spread financial resources to spend on each student. A socioeconomically diverse campus is beneficial in that it often strikes a good balance between these two factors of integration and resources.

Some students who identify as under-represented minorities (URM) find schools that boast higher minority populations to be inherently desirable for personal reasons regarding comfort or accessibility. If you’re one of those students, then a college with a diverse range of socioeconomic status will be a plus factor in a similar sense.

What are the most economically diverse colleges?

Calculations and rankings of economic diversity differ slightly but main statistic considered is generally the number of Pell Grant recipients attending the school. Pell Grants are federal assistance given to low-income families and the grant itself varies in amount according to income levels within the specific threshold.

The Upshot published the following results, listing the top 10 schools as Vassar, Grinnell, U.N.C.-Chapel Hill, Smith, Amherst, Harvard, Pomona, St. Mary’s, and Columbia. It is interesting to see that many of these schools are small liberal arts colleges with Harvard and Columbia being the two Ivy-League universities represented. U.N.C.-Chapel Hill is the only public university in the top 10. The complete list can be found at The New York Times here.

Image from The New York Times

Image from The New York Times.

The US News & World Report ranked schools according to only the statistic of Pell Grant recipients and also separated rankings by type of institution. For the national universities, the top 5 most economically diverse colleges are University of California–Los Angeles, University of California–Berkeley, Columbia, University of Southern California, and Emory. For the liberal arts colleges, Amherst, Grinnell, Vassar, Smith, and Williams are ranked at the top of the list. Make sure to check out the full list at US News & World Report here.

Both of the reports indicate that socioeconomic diversity doesn’t coincide with the “top” schools and can put a new perspective on the benefits of expanding a college list to include smaller ones.

Economic diversity might not be at the top of your considerations, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. The effects of socioeconomic diversity on a campus can manifest in very concrete ways that can significantly shape an undergraduate experience.

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the author

Jilliann Pak hails from the suburbs of SoCal but is currently attending school across the coast at Johns Hopkins University. When she’s not complaining about the cold weather or sleeping in the library, she’s probably eating, cuddled up into a blanket burrito, or watching Parks and Recreation, preferably all at once.

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