Verbum Ultimum: A Welcoming Place
This past month has seen two positive developments regarding increasing educational opportunities for high-achieving students from low-income households. Dartmouth and 11 other universities recently joined Say Yes to Education, a nonprofit that offers free tuition to low-income students, and the College Board recently began to take steps to increase college application rates by high school students who perform well on standardized tests and come from low-income households. While we commend both Dartmouth and the College Board for these actions, we believe Dartmouth must take further steps to make campus a more welcoming place to students from low-income families.
Recent economics research has shown that high-achieving high school students from low-income households are less likely to apply to and attend selective universities than similar academically well-prepared students from higher-income households. This is in spite of the fact that more selective universities typically cost less to attend for students from low-income households, after financial aid is taken into account. Thus it would directly benefit these very students if more of them were to apply to schools such as Dartmouth. In this light, the College's decision to join Say Yes is an important symbolic step. The College Board's new program is similarly commendable among other things, it will provide fee waivers for six applications to low-income students who score in the top 15 percent of the distribution on the SAT.
But attracting more applicants is not enough; the costs of pursuing internships and participating in Greek life are two particularly important problems. Many low-income students may simply be unable to partake in unpaid or low-paid internships that would provide them long-term career benefits. Additionally, about two-thirds of eligible undergraduates are affiliated, reflecting the prominence of Greek organizations in campus residential and social life. House and social dues, however, typically amount to over $1,000 a year for most houses. Because financial aid packages do not currently provide funds to cover living expenses during internships or Greek dues, it may be financially difficult for many low-income students to fully participate in these activities. While many Greek houses try to help defray the cost of dues through various means, the problem still remains for many students.
The College should expand the amount of financial support available for students to pursue internship opportunities, and the financial aid office should take a page from the books of its peer office at Princeton University. Their board allowance for juniors and seniors on financial aid is $7,850 per year and the most expensive meal plan costs $5,860 per year. The almost $2,000 difference tacitly helps students on financial aid partially defray the cost of joining an eating club, which students may do during their sophomore spring. A similar approach at Dartmouth would reduce the costs to low-income students of joining a Greek house or other social organization. Taken together, these two changes would go a long way in making Dartmouth a more welcoming place to students from low-income families.