A recent New York Times investigation revealed just how elite USC is. According to the analysis, a whopping 13.9 percent of students come from the top 1 percent of the income scale — meaning that their families make over $630,000 per year. At the same time, only 21.9 percent of students come from the bottom 60 percent, which encompasses families earning less than $65,000 per year. Socioeconomic disparities continue to plague students’ access to higher education on a national scale at our University.
This discovery highlights the immense work needed to be done to make college more accessible for everyone. Though USC has made admirable strides in recent years, these statistics present an opportunity for the University to be a pioneer in the field.
In 38 elite colleges throughout the United States, student populations are skewed in favor of rich students. For those looking to make a better life for themselves, this can be especially disheartening. Higher education represents the best chance for social mobility for many students, but a lack of accessibility and affordability obliterates dreams before they can even take off.
Fortunately, USC has taken steps to counter this trend and falls outside of the 38 universities spotlighted by the survey. One in four Trojans qualifies for a Pell Grant given by the federal financial aid program for students, and USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative enrolls over 1,000 local students from 6th to 12th grade in a program that facilitates the journey to college. On top of this, 70 percent of USC students receive some form of financial aid. And first-generation college students formed 13 percent of the freshman class this fall.
Yet there is much more to be done. USC pales in comparison to other universities that actively recruit students from lower-income households. At Vassar College, the university is not only dedicated to actively recruiting low-income students but is also committed to decreasing the financial burden of these students while they are in college. In 2015, Tufts University announced that they will actively and openly recruit DREAMers, undocumented students who have been in the United States since the age of five. USC should also look to public universities — the City University of New York returns tuition money to the families of undocumented backgrounds. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill hosts the Carolina Covenant, a program that ensures that children from low-income families graduate debt-free.
This underrepresentation of low-income students perpetuates economic inequality and a revolving door of exclusion and poverty. From a young age, many are taught that “hard work pays off.” But when high-achieving students are barred from college just because of pre-existing economic conditions, achievement is just a farce with no utility. The potential to succeed — to be a part of a well-connected network, study in well-stocked libraries and attend enriching student programming — is ultimately stripped.
As a university that welcomes people of diverse backgrounds to our Trojan Family, USC faces many obstacles to help every student succeed. Diversity, a core Trojan value, does not only encompass race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, veteran status or national origin — it also includes socioeconomic diversity that allows students from different backgrounds to talk to each other and learn from people who have had different life experiences.
The University should emerge as a leader in enhancing its commitment to an economically diverse student body. During the admissions process, it can weigh applicants from underprivileged areas more heavily than it does now. But greater than that, it can contribute to more cohesive community development. And it can create stronger institutional pipelines to low-income schools.
For many people at this University, matriculation might be the norm, and those from the college preparation feeder system have a clear advantage. It’s time to change that.
Daily Trojan Spring 2017 Editorial Board