Snail-Like Progress by Ivy League Colleges in Increasing Enrollments of Low-Income Students

New data obtained by JBHE from the U.S. Department of Education finds that, despite extraordinary and highly publicized efforts offering new financial aid programs geared to low-income families, very few students from families in the lower socioeconomic brackets are winning places at the eight Ivy League colleges.

The best performance is at Columbia. The data shows that 16 percent of the students at Columbia University receive federal Pell Grants, a program for students from families that in most cases earn under $40,000 a year. Columbia has the highest percentage of low-income students among the eight Ivy League colleges. But JBHE calculations show that the percentage of the student body receiving Pell Grants at Columbia has dropped nearly 5 percentage points since 1998. The percentage of low-income students also has declined since 1998 at Cornell, Yale, and Penn. At Penn the decrease was huge. The percentage of low-income students at Penn dropped from 14.9 percent in 1998 to 9.6 percent in 2004.

Princeton University launched an ambitious and revolutionary student aid program nearly a decade ago. It eliminated loans for all students from families with incomes under $50,000. But the plan appears not to be making much headway in attracting large numbers of low-income students to Princeton. In 2004 only 7.5 percent of the undergraduate students at Princeton received federal Pell Grants, the lowest level in the Ivy League. The percentage of low-income students in 2004 is only slightly higher than the rate that existed in 1998 before the new financial aid plan went into effect.

Harvard, which has a financial plan similar to Princeton’s, has made considerable  progress in increasing the number of low-income students on campus. In 2004, 12.6 percent of Harvard undergraduates received federal Pell Grants. This is nearly double the rate that prevailed at Harvard in 1998.