Recruiting the Affluent
Socioeconomic Diversity Lacking at CMC, Though Worse Elsewhere
By Russell M. Page
Copy Editor, CMC ’13
Historically, elite selective private schools like the Claremont Colleges have been enclaves of the rich. In the past few decades, though, these institutions have begun admitting more socioeconomically diverse student bodies to better represent the demographic composition of the United States. Nevertheless, some would likely be surprised by how much of a difference there still exists between the average American household and the household of a typical Claremont McKenna student. According to a 2007 Census Bureau estimate, the median household income in the U.S. is approximately $50,000. Comparatively, among families of CMC students who applied for financial aid in the 2009-10 school year, 77.1% reported earning over $50,000. While only 15.7% of American households make over $100,000, 51% of those CMC families who applied for aid did. And this is only based on the CMC households that applied for financial aid.
Why is there such a disparity between CMC and the rest of the American population? As it turns out, CMC is not much different from its peer institutions; CMC actually does better than most private colleges in its efforts to make itself accessible and affordable for lower income students. The college is officially need-blind in the admissions process, meaning that ability to pay tuition does not factor into acceptance/rejection decisions. Nevertheless, when CMC’s student body is so different from the rest of the country’s population, one must question whether CMC is doing enough to recruit socioeconomically diverse applicants.
According to Dean of Admission Richard Vos, all selective colleges “do not truly represent the American population.” Part of the reason for this, Vos explained, is a “sad observation of a high correlation between high SAT scores and income.” The Office of Admission must be realistic and target highly qualified and deserving applicants in places and schools where they have succeeded in recruiting qualified applicants in the past. More often than not, this strategy focuses on affluent students, who tend to come from families that put more of an emphasis on higher education and can afford to pay for private high schools, test preparation courses, and college counselors. Because “word of mouth” is so important in attracting students to a school like CMC, our admissions office must continue to prioritize its recruiting base, even if that means spending a disproportionate amount of resources on lower-income students.
Although we should not stop our efforts to attract these exceptional students, the college should also seek to target the myriad intelligent and talented students from less affluent, underrepresented areas. Vos says the Office of Admission’s strategy in attracting students from different backgrounds is to “spread the net widely.
” Throughout the recruiting season, CMC’s admissions officers visit approximately 500 high schools, 15 to 20 percent of which have never submitted an application to CMC. To find first generation and low income students, the Office of Admission targets more public than private schools. It also purchases names from the Student Search list derived from PSAT scores, a tactic that Vos deems a more egalitarian measure of finding students from diverse backgrounds.
International students and transfer students also diversify the student body. CMC does better than most colleges in offering financial aid to international students, to whom the need-blind policy does not pertain. Vos claims that the increased number of international students, from 25 to 35 per class over the last few years, stems from a goal of globalizing the student body; however, one must wonder whether this stems in large part from international students’ demonstrating they can pay the full price. Moreover, with the college’s suffering endowment, removing need-blind admissions from the transfer application process has been discussed but repeatedly turned down.
Although CMC falls short in recruiting and admitting a student body that represents the socioeconomic diversity of the American population, it does better than most of its peer institutions. Because of its need-blind admissions process and emphasis on financial aid, CMC has one of the most socioeconomically diverse student bodies of any selective liberal arts college. Of the other 5Cs, only Pomona practices need-blind admission. Most colleges cannot afford to be need-blind, and their student bodies are even less representative as a result.
Still, there is much to be desired. Although disadvantaged students may not perform as well on standardized tests or come from schools that prepare them as well for the college search and admissions process, they should not be structurally barred from selective higher education. Without these students’ perspectives, selective schools like CMC isolate themselves from reality.