The Nation's 15 Richest and Stingiest Colleges

Last Updated Mar 28, 2011 8:07 PM EDT

Are the nation's wealthiest colleges also the stingiest?Collegiate gothic building at Washington University
It's easy to make that conclusion when you look at an analysis released today by The Chronicle of Higher Education that examined the number of poor students that the nation's 50 wealthiest colleges are educating.

Less than 15% of students attending the 50 richest colleges in the 2008-2009 school year were considered poor. In contrast, 26% of students who attend other four-year colleges -- state and non-profit private institutions - are considered low income.

Among the 50 schools with the largest endowments, here are the 15 universities and colleges with the smallest percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, which is typically given to families earning less than $40,000 a year.

Wealthiest Schools With Few Poor Students

Universities % of Pell Grant Students
  • Washington University St. Louis 5.7%
  • Harvard University 6.5%
  • University of Virginia 7.0%
  • University of Pennsylvania 9.9%
  • Duke University 8.3%
  • Northwestern University 8.3%
  • Notre Dame University 8.4%
  • University of Richmond 8.8%
  • Yale University 8.9%
  • Boston College 9.2%
  • Princeton University 9.9%
  • Johns Hopkins University 10%
  • Tufts University 10%
  • Swarthmore College 10.2%
  • Brown University 10.9%

Why Do Rich Colleges Have Few Poor Students?

Back in 2009 I had the opportunity to visit with the then admission director at Washington University in St. Louis and I asked her why her school enrolled such an incredibly low percentage of Pell Grant applicants. She suggested that it was hard to attract poorer students living in St. Louis and elsewhere in the country because they didn't know about the university. Hmmm.

Some apologists for rich universities have suggested that these elite schools don't want to water down their applicant pool and that they are all fishing in the same small pond of low-income kids, who can handle the academic expectations of the most elite schools.

What About This Kid?

When I hear that excuse I think about the experience of Nathan, my son's best friend since third grade. Nathan is a brilliant African-American teen, whose dad did not go to college. Nathan earned a stellar SAT score. He was either a National Merit Finalist or Semifinalist -- can't remember which. Nathan didn't earn a single "B" in high school. The future science major was the vice president of his high school class and he had a job and an internship at the prestigious Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Harvard and Yale turned down Nathan, whose parents qualified for a Pell Grant. If this is the sort of Pell Grant kids that these universities are rejecting, it's no wonder that these schools don't have many poor students on their campuses.

Luckily, Nathan got accepted into all the elite liberal arts colleges that he applied to, including Carleton College, where he is a happy freshman. (To its credit, Washington University in St. Louis did try hard to recruit Nathan.)

Research has repeatedly shown that the students who can benefit the most from an elite education are low-income and minority students. Affluent students don't need an elite education to prosper, which is the subject of a blog post that I wrote earlier this month.

Wealthy schools offer lots of excuses for why they don't educate more low-income students, but frankly they are and will remain just excuses.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.
Washington University in St. Louis image by Jay 128. CC 2.0.

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The Best Colleges You've Never Heard Of

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