Measuring Economic Diversity at American Colleges

How is economic diversity determined? U.S. News looks at the percentage of enrolled undergraduate students receiving Pell grants at each school.

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Economic diversity has received growing attention in higher education, particularly at elite schools that haven't traditionally enrolled large numbers of low-income students or students from low-income families. It's also argued by many that colleges and universities should make a much better effort to educate students from low-income families, given higher education's role in social mobility.

How is economic diversity determined? U.S. News looks at the percentage of enrolled undergraduate students receiving Pell grants at each school. Many experts say that the percentage of students receiving Pell grants is the best available gauge of how many low-income undergrads there are on a given campus. Pell grants are awarded from a federally funded program that gives need-based grants to low-income students.

However, the proportion of students on Pell grants, which are most often given to undergrads with family incomes under $20,000, isn't a perfect measure of an institution's efforts to achieve economic diversity. A college might enroll a large number of students just above the Pell cutoff, for instance, and percentages at public universities may reflect the wide variation from state to state in the number of qualified low-income students.

So what do the following tables really mean? A school with under 10 percent of students receiving Pell grants means that not a very large proportion of its students comes from low-income backgrounds and the school may not have the best support services in place for such students. If a school has a large proportion of students receiving Pell grants, 40 percent or more, that could signify that its very mission is to serve students from low-income backgrounds.

These links will take you directly to the tables that show the percentage of undergraduates receiving federal Pell grants for low-income students for all the colleges and universities in these U.S. News categories.

  • National Universities
  • Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Universities-Master's-North
  • Universities-Master's-South
  • Universities-Master's-Midwest
  • Universities-Master's-West
  • Baccalaureate Colleges-North
  • Baccalaureate Colleges-South
  • Baccalaureate Colleges-Midwest
  • Baccalaureate Colleges-West
  • Pell grant percentages were calculated using 2005-2006 data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, along with fall 2005 total undergraduate enrollment collected from the colleges themselves.