Charge: Trustee Ad Hoc Committee on College Access
Posted January 7, 2013; 10:00 a.m.
By President Shirley M. Tilghman
Princeton University strives to educate exceptional students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. For many years the University has been a national leader in providing generous financial aid so that no admitted student is unable to attend because of financial constraints. In the last 15 years there have been two notable changes in our financial aid policy: eliminating the requirement that students take out loans as part of their financial aid package and expanding full aid eligibility to international students. We have also focused on creating a level playing field for our students once they matriculate by offering generous aid for programs such as the Bridge Year and summer study abroad. Thanks to these policies, there has been a significant increase in the socioeconomic diversity of the undergraduate student body: 38 percent of the Class of 2001 received financial aid compared to 60 percent of the Class of 2016.
Despite these substantial gains, students whose families are in the top five percent of the U.S. income scale remain significantly over-represented in our applicant pools, with a concomitant deficit of talented low-income students – a demographic profile that is shared with other selective colleges and universities. While the financial aid enhancements at Princeton and many of our peer institutions have lowered the financial obstacles for our low-income students, other factors have come to the fore as powerful barriers to access, such as inadequate college counseling about the range of college options, culturally constrained aspirations, and inadequate academic preparation.
To help us develop effective strategies to overcome the barriers to college readiness and access faced by low-income students, I have asked a working group including trustee, alumni, faculty, student and staff members to brainstorm with me to address the following questions:
• What do data from Princeton’s applicant pools and undergraduate cohorts tell us about successful strategies in recruiting an economically diverse student body? What can we learn from practices at other selective colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations focused on college access?
• What innovative steps could Princeton take to further reduce the barriers faced by low-income students in obtaining a rigorous college education?
The committee, which I will chair, will meet in January, April and May, in conjunction with meetings of the Board of Trustees, and issue an interim report of their findings and recommendations. In developing recommendations, I am hoping that the committee will propose innovative approaches that will have sustained impact on the socioeconomic diversity of the student body not only at Princeton, but at peer institutions across the nation.