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For the Wealthiest Colleges, How Many Low-Income Students Are Enough?

So what does the low-income student population look like at wealthy colleges these days? The Chronicle examined the enrollment of federal Pell Grant recipients — a measure of low-income status; most recipients have family incomes below $40,000 — at the 25 colleges with the largest endowments per full-time-equivalent undergraduate in 2014-15. Almost three-quarters of those colleges have seen at least some growth in the share of students receiving Pell Grants over the last five years. Still, most of the 25 colleges have less than 20 percent of their students receiving Pell Grants, and a couple have less than half of that percentage. Does that seem like the right level of representation?

Colleges in this group tend to offer generous financial aid to the low-income students they do enroll, they just don’t enroll all that many. Some of them argue that it’s better to take a smaller group of low-income students, but meet all of their financial need — even if that means factoring students’ ability to pay into the admissions process for some or all groups of students.