UC Enrolls Largest Percentage of Low Income Students in Nation, Study Finds

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UC enrolls more low income students than any of the nation's top universities, public or private, according to a study released earlier this month.

Topping the list was UCLA with 34.8 percent of its students coming from low income backgrounds. UC Berkeley followed with 30.1 percent, and UC San Diego ranked third with 28.7 percent.

The study was conducted by The James Irvine Foundation, an independent California-based grant-making organization. It examined the percentage of students eligible for federal Pell grants at the top 40 national universities as ranked by U.S. News and World Report in 2001.

Pell grants are offered to students whose annual family income is less than $30,000.

In the study, UC ranked higher than other flagship public institutions, including the University of Michigan, with 12 percent, and the University of Virginia, with 9 percent. UC also fared better than need-blind private institutions like Stanford University, where 10.8 percent of students are eligible for the grants.

Robert Shireman, the foundation's higher education program director, headed the study. He said that although people assume that low income students gravitate more toward public institutions than private, the disparity between public universities suggests otherwise.

"A number of public universities don't have the high percentage that UCs do," Shireman said. "If being a public institution was the deciding factor, why is Michigan so low and Cal so high? There's evidence that UC has made a lot of effort to address the needs of working class students."

Enrollment percentages ranged widely for private as well as public universities. The University of Southern California ranked fourth in the study, with 27 percent of its students coming from low income backgrounds. Harvard University ranked second to last with 6.8 percent.

Shireman said USC enrolled by far the most low income students of any private university in the study.

Differences between institutional commitments may explain the wide spectrum of enrollment results, he said. Students choose institutions where they feel they are not just accepted, but wanted and welcome, Shireman added.

"Stanford has a need-blind policy. It tells lower income students that they will cover their entire financial need-but Stanford's numbers are a lot lower than Cal's," he said. "I didn't expect the difference to be so great. We can learn a lot from seeing why students choose some institutions and not others."

High tuition levels probably detract low income students from enrolling in private universities.

"Even if students are offered financial aid, when tuition is equal to family income, it can be very scary," Shireman said.

In 2000-01, tuition for Stanford cost $25,917, while student fees for UC cost $3,662.50. Neither amount includes the cost of textbooks, room and board, or personal expenses.

The affordability of higher education that UC offers has attracted low income students, UC spokesperson Hanan Eisenman said.

"The numbers speak for themselves," he said. "They show that students are getting the message that UC is accessible to students from all walks of life."

Outreach efforts across the state have helped UC deliver a message of accessibility, Eisenman said.

Gail Kaufman, director of school-university partnerships for UC Berkeley's Center for Educational Outreach, said UC outreach efforts have been in place since the 1970s and generally target communities with large numbers of low income students.

"We have a high rate of students who clearly come from low income neighborhoods," she said. "A lot of these students have parents who didn't go to college and have low CSU-UC attendance rates. In our programs we're letting students know their options, and helping them better prepare academically."

UC's outreach program has established partnerships between the respective campuses and surrounding high schools. Outreach officers hold workshops explaining the UC application process, arrange campus tours and show students ways to obtain financial aid.

"Through outreach, we're basically getting students from all economic backgrounds to know more about UC and just encouraging students to apply," Eisenman said.

UC should be proud of its results in increasing representation of social class but should note that economic diversity has not led to a corresponding balanced representation of ethnic groups, Shireman said.

"Berkeley and UC already have very impressive numbers of low income, but it hasn't brought ethnic diversity to the campuses," he said.

Shireman said colleges need to give low income students the same amount of attention they devote to underrepresented minorities but that attention to social class should supplement and not detract from campus efforts to increase ethnic diversity.


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