The University of Virginia, one of the country’s top public universities, enrolls a strikingly affluent group of students: Less than 15 percent of recent undergraduates at UVA have come from families with incomes low enough to qualify for Pell Grants, the largest federal financial aid program.
The same is true at some other public universities, including Auburn, Georgia Tech and William & Mary. It is also true at a larger group of elite private colleges, including Bates, Brown, Georgetown, Oberlin, Tulane and Wake Forest. The skew is so extreme at some colleges that more undergraduates come from the top 1 percent of the income distribution than from the entire bottom 60 percent, one academic study found.
It’s worth remembering that this pattern has existed despite affirmative action. Nearly every college with an affluent enrollment has historically used race-based admissions policies. Those policies often succeeded at producing racial diversity without producing as much economic diversity.
After the Supreme Court decision last week banning race-based affirmative action, much of the commentary has focused on how admissions officers might use economic data, like household income or wealth, to ensure continued racial diversity. And whether they figure out how to do so is important (as I’ve previously covered).
But racial diversity is not the only form of diversity that matters. Economic diversity matters for its own sake: The dearth of lower-income students at many elite colleges is a sign that educational opportunity has been constrained for Americans of all races. To put it another way, economic factors like household wealth are not valuable merely because they are a potential proxy for race; they are also a telling measure of disadvantage in their own right.
As colleges revamp their admissions policies to respond to the court’s decision, there will be two different questions worth asking: Can the new system do as well as the old one at enrolling Black, Hispanic and Native students? And can it do better at enrolling lower-income students? So far, the public discussion has tended to ignore that second question.
The F&M model
Creating more economically diverse selective campuses is both difficult and possible.
It is difficult because nearly every aspect of the admissions system favors affluent applicants. They attend better high schools. They receive help on their essays from their highly educated parents. They know how to work the system by choosing character-building extracurricular activities and taking standardized tests multiple times. In many cases — if the applicants are athletes or the children of alumni, donors or faculty members — they benefit from their own version of affirmative action.
Nonetheless, some colleges have recently shown that it is possible to enroll and graduate more middle- and low-income students.
These newly diverse colleges include several with multibillion-dollar endowments (like Amherst, Harvard, Princeton, Swarthmore and Yale). The list also includes colleges with fewer resources — like Franklin & Marshall, Macalester, Vassar and Wooster — which have had to make tough choices to find the money to increase their scholarship budgets. Crucially, these campuses have not sacrificed one form of diversity for another: They also tend to be racially diverse.
Admissions officers at such colleges have recognized that talented students from humble backgrounds usually don’t look as polished. Their essays may be less impressive — perhaps because they received less editing from adults. The student’s summer activity may have been a job in her own impoverished neighborhood — rather than a social justice trip to an impoverished area overseas.
Many of these students have tremendous promise. By admitting them, an elite college can change the trajectories of entire families. A college dominated by affluent students, by contrast, is failing to serve as the engine of opportunity that it could be.
I’m not suggesting that economic diversity is an adequate replacement for racial diversity. The United States has a specific history of racial discrimination, especially against Black and Native Americans, that continues to restrict opportunities for today’s teenagers. The Supreme Court ruling that banned race-based affirmative action at times seemed to wish away this history, imagining that the country had moved beyond racism. In truth, students of color, at every income level, face challenges that white students do not.
But many of the people who run elite colleges have had their own blind spot in recent decades. They have often excluded class from their definition of diversity. They enrolled students of every race and religion, from every continent and U.S. region, without worrying much about the economic privilege that many of those students shared.
Now that colleges are legally required to change their approach, they have a new opportunity to broaden their definition of diversity.
The Supreme Court’s decisions on affirmative action and student debt have handed Democrats an opportunity to talk about class and improve their elitist image. The Times’s Jonathan Weisman asks, “Will the party pivot?”
“Affirmative action, in my view, was doomed,” Jay Caspian Kang writes in The New Yorker, focusing on how the system treated Asian Americans.
This could be an opportunity to improve college admissions, Times Opinion writes. Seven experts share how they would overhaul the system.
THE LATEST NEWS
Israel’s military said it had left Jenin, a city in the occupied West Bank, after a major incursion killed at least 12 Palestinians.
To Israelis, Jenin is an incubator of terrorism. To Palestinians, it’s a symbol of defiance.
War in Ukraine
Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi met in a virtual summit. Instead of discussing collaboration, each leader was focused on his own agendas.
Russia and the U.S. were in contact over the possibility of a prisoner swap, the Kremlin said. It was likely a reference to the jailed American reporter Evan Gershkovich.
The Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. is a scene of constant protests, and the F.B.I. is trying to recruit disaffected embassy workers as spies.
Many businesses are still overhauling operations because of the war, including a Finnish tire company that made 80 percent of its tires in Russia.
A judge limited the Biden administration’s contact with social media sites, a ruling that could hurt efforts to fight disinformation.
The Secret Service is investigating cocaine found at the White House. President Biden and his family were away when it was discovered.
Republicans haven’t been successful in framing Biden as part of the woke left, despite his support for abortion rights and gay rights.
Republican presidential candidates spent the Fourth of July campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire. Donald Trump was absent, but his presence was still felt.
The White House wanted South Carolina to vote first in 2024, and the Democratic National Committee obliged. But it hasn’t gone according to plan.
A shooter dressed in a ski mask and body armor opened fire on multiple blocks in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Five people were killed.
Several gunmen fired indiscriminately into a crowd in Fort Worth, killing three people. Fireworks exploded as people tried to flee.
Other Big Stories
The French justice system is trying to process about 3,400 arrests after five nights of protests over a teenager’s killing.
Amsterdam wants to improve its red-light district for residents. One idea: create a building for legal prostitution elsewhere in the city.
An alligator killed a 69-year-old woman walking her dog in South Carolina.
Utility companies are lobbying to slow down the clean energy transition. They should be prevented from using customers’ money to do so, David Pomerantz argues.
Here is a column by Farhad Manjoo on gas-powered cars.
Going to Europe? You’re not alone. People are arriving in record numbers.
“Asteroid City”: These are the six best films of 2023 so far.
July supermoon: See photos of a blood-red moon around the world. (It was the first of four this year.)
Wine: Painstaking blends are dazzling diners and critics.
Lives Lived: Susan Love was a surgeon and one of the world’s most visible public faces in the war on breast cancer. She died at 75.
Rehab: The Yankees star Aaron Judge opted against in-season surgery, which leaves the door open to a return, The Athletic reports.
C.T.E.: For the first time, the degenerative brain disease has been diagnosed in a female professional athlete, The Times reports.
Mustard Belt: Reigning champions Joey Chestnut and Miki Sudo each defended their Nathan’s hot dog eating contest crowns yesterday. The Athletic shares the videos.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Saving music history: In the mid-2000s, before Spotify dominated the online music industry, mixtape websites like DatPiff flourished, giving musicians a simple way to release their songs for free. Much of their content fell into a legal gray area; signed artists would publish songs without their label’s approval, and tracks often used unlicensed samples. While those loose rules once helped spur hip-hop creativity, Brian Josephs writes in The Times, they are now complicating the effort to preserve the sites’ archives.
More on culture
The hot new Italian player at Wimbledon? Gucci.
Vietnam has banned “Barbie” screenings because the film features a disputed map of the South China Sea, The Washington Post reports.
THE MORNING RECOMMENDS …
Make a chopped salad with chickpeas, feta and avocado.
Store your bike in a smart way.
Use the best bread knife.
Read “The Exhibitionist,” a novel about a woman married to a monster in the art world.
Here are today’s Spelling Bee and the Bee Buddy, which helps you find remaining words. Yesterday’s pangrams were diatomic and idiomatic.
And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. Trying to use your summer produce? Text any fruit or vegetable emoji to 361-COOK-NYT (361-266-5698) and we’ll send you a free recipe with that ingredient.
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David Leonhardt writes The Morning, The Times’s flagship daily newsletter. He has previously been an Op-Ed columnist, Washington bureau chief, co-host of “The Argument” podcast, founding editor of The Upshot section and a staff writer for The Times Magazine. In 2011, he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. More about David Leonhardt
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