That's unfortunate, Avery says. Some studies show that qualified low-income students who apply to a mix of schools have good odds of admission, he notes.
[Related story: Study Calculates Odds of Admission to Top Colleges]
Officials at schools such as Amherst and Columbia say their reputations for admitting and aiding low-income students is one reason they get more low-income applicants. But Columbia President Lee Bollinger notes that his school also sends recruiters to some high schools that other elite colleges ignore.
Tom Parker, dean of admission and financial aid at Amherst, says other schools could use Amherst's techniques of broad recruitment and participation in the QuestBridge program, which matches low-income students with good grades to top schools. "It is just a matter of priorities," he says. Amherst has chosen to spend its now reduced endowment on aid rather than flashier perks such as rock climbing walls that might grab more attention. "We've been buffeted like everybody else by the economy. … But should we use our unbelievable endowment to make successful and privileged kids even more successful and privileged? That doesn't seem like the right use of the money."
Monica Inzer, dean of admissions and financial aid at Hamilton, says that she and her staffers are delighted that they won't have to reject needy but excellent students any more. But she can't promise that the change will significantly raise the percentage of students from very low-income families. She is confident, however, that the change will result in more opportunities and aid for middle-class families. "We'll be able to admit really hardworking students from working-class families," she says.
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