University announces official commitment for increased socioeconomic diversity

Administration plans to boost Pell Grant number to 13% by 2020

| Editor-in-Chief

After years of both internal and external criticism regarding a lack of socioeconomic diversity on campus, Washington University administrators have crafted a more concrete set of plans to increase the school’s number of Pell Grant-eligible students.

Despite schools competitive with the University having a median of about 15 percent of their students eligible for Pell Grants—which are only offered to students from lower-income families, typically those with incomes below $60,000—Washington University has lagged far behind its peers in this measure of socioeconomic diversity. Only 8 percent of the current freshman class is Pell-eligible, and that number is an improvement on the 6 and 5 percent marks from the previous two classes, respectively.

The new plan announced by the University on Thursday evening calls for an increase in Pell-eligible students on the Danforth campus to 13 percent by 2020, with $25 million to be devoted annually toward achieving this goal. Sources of new funds for financial aid will include redistributed merit aid, fundraising efforts and increased gifts from each of the undergraduate schools.

Although he said in October that $25 million was too high to secure each year, Provost Holden Thorp said on Thursday that combining the different sources of additional aid money would ultimately provide sufficient funds to gradually increase the number of Pell Grant-eligible students each year.

“I would summarize where we’ve been in the last couple of years as committing to try to improve each year but not having a firm goal of where we were going and when,” Thorp said, adding that Thursday’s announcement qualified as that firm goal.

Regarding merit aid, Thorp estimated that about about $1 million would be redirected from merit to need-based aid, but he said that he did not expect this shift to adversely affect the University’s ability to attract top-level students.

“If you look at where we are with our applications, I don’t have any worries about not being able to attract great students to Wash. U. At the least, we are up 10 percent in our early decision applications and we expect to have a lot of interest this year, and so I’m not concerned that we won’t be able to get everybody that we want,” he said.

Thorp also reiterated a message he delivered at a panel on tuition use last semester, saying that the University’s priority over recent decades had been building up its academic quality and status, to the neglect of building up socioeconomic diversity.

“We had to make sure that Wash. U. was a place that people really wanted access to. A lot of the work that Wash. U. has done in the last few years has been to make Wash. U. as attractive as it can be. The fact that people are pushing for access to Wash. U. is an affirmation of the great progress we’ve made and work we’ve done to make this the institution that it is,” Thorp said.

The University’s announcement included the promise of continuing to commit to socioeconomic diversity beyond the 2020 goal. Thorp said that although such plans are unclear that far in the future, he foresees these efforts as a baseline moving forward.

“Given the level of interest, its unlikely that we will go backwards [below 13 percent],” he said. “On the other hand, the University is around forever, so whether or not this is something to be sustained forever is something to be asked of the generations that come after us. But I want us to get to 13 percent and maintain that as a minimum going forward.”

Additional reporting by Emily Schienvar.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.