With the end of the World Changing Campaign this past summer and the recent piece in The New York Times regarding the prevalence of students receiving Pell Grants at elite colleges and universities, the Editorial Board of The Miscellany News would like to take a moment to commend the College’s commitment to socioeconomic diversity, but caution that issues of class continue to persist both systemically in the world of higher education and here on Vassar’s campus. We feel that it is important to ensure that the awareness of socioeconomic concerns that occurs during the admissions process is continued well after students first arrive on campus.
The World Changing Campaign that ended this July brought in over $41 million past the stated goal of $400 million. This sum includes $80.5 million for scholarships and financial aid. With the 2012-2013 Student Gift also going toward financial aid, students, faculty, administrators and alumni/ae have made a powerful statement of support for socioeconomic diversity— both symbolically and financially.
Indeed, with, according to The New York Times, 22 percent of students receiving Pell Grants, Vassar is considered to have a higher level of socioeconomic diversity when compared to its peer institutions. The move toward a Need Blind financial aid policy in 2007 has largely contributed to this diversity.
Yet, it is also important to recognize that despite these signs of socioeconomic diversity, economic inequality in America’s elite colleges and universities persists, with those of the lowest socioeconomic status being less likely to attend college when compared to their peers with higher income backgrounds.
Moreover, those who do attend elite colleges are more likely to graduate with high levels of debt. With tuition rising rapidly, the situation is not improving, and a number of elite schools, such as Wesleyan University, have decided to scale back financial aid or switch to a need aware admissions policy. In light of this climate, the recent economic downturn and the endowment’s resulting losses, we applaud Vassar’s commitment to recruiting and admitting those students who deserve to be here regardless of their economic status.
Yet while this devotion to providing low income students with access to high quality education is laudable, it is also important to provide resources to low income students once they arrive on campus and throughout the entirety of their Vassar careers. As an Editorial Board, we feel that are several ways Vassar could provide more comprehensive resources for low-income students.
First, while Transitions, an early arrival program intended to provide low income and first-generation students with an introduction to college life, is an excellent step toward creating a socioeconomically accepting environment, the program’s placements are limited, and thus can be not granted to all students who would benefit. Extending the program throughout the academic year could also benefit students by offering them ongoing support throughout their time at Vassar. Additionally, it is important to recognize that economic status can change over time, and students who may not have initially needed resources like Transitions, may need them later on in their Vassar career. Having a program like Transitions that would extend throughout the year would naturally remedy this.
Administrative departments like the Office of Campus Life and Diversity consistently emphasize the need to celebrate various aspects of student identity. However, while there are a significant number of resources available for students wishing to congregate around identity aspects such as religion and spirituality, race and sexual orientation and gender, there is an underrepresentation of support for students of lower socioeconomic status.
For this reason, The Miscellany News would like to reaffirm its support for a low income center as proposed by the Student Class Issue Alliance in the Fall of 2012. This would mean that, similar to the ALANA Center or LGBTQ Center, people who identify as having a low income background would have a safe space to discuss issues relating to their economic circumstances, and feel comfortable and supported by others members of the college. We also believe that no reductions to the budgets of the other identity-based centers should be lowered to finance such a critical endeavor.
In addition to providing social and emotional support, a permanent center for low-income students could also provide resources to support students as they navigate financial aid applications as well as student employment paperwork. It could also entail a new section of the Office of Campus Life and Diversity to be opened, with an sector dedicated to class diversity. Much like race and gender, economic status affects students’ experiences at Vassar and having permanent resources will further Vassar’s goal of providing safe spaces for all of its students.
Additionally, we fully support the motion passed in the Vassar Student Association (VSA) to make VSA Executive Board positions a Student Employment position, allowing them to work a fixed number of hours on clerical work each week in exchange for pay. This would encourage the Student Employment Office to ensure that all students regardless of economic status have the opportunity to seek leadership positions on campus. Vassar students constantly push for diversity among the VSA Executive Board, yet such a time-consuming position could deter students who rely on work study offset the cost of their education.
The Miscellany News feels that with these changes, Vassar will be making a large step towards inclusion of students with different socioeconomic backgrounds.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinion of at least two-thirds of The Miscellany News 17 member Editorial Board.