New Web Site Sheds Light on Student Income, Race and Ethnicity and Loans at 3,000 Colleges and Universities

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How do colleges compare when it comes to enrolling low-income students? How many students have Pell Grants at the public and private colleges in our state?  Is the average student loan debt at Harvard higher or lower than at the University of Massachusetts?  Are the students at our community colleges applying for federal aid?  A new web site now allows journalists, researchers, policy makers, higher education leaders, and the public to get answers to these questions and many more.

EconomicDiversity.org, is the first public source of campus-level data on student income, race, ethnicity and loan usage.  The web site offers simple profiles of 3,000 accredited colleges and universities across the country, and allows visitors to dig deeper by comparing those institutions on any of 128 different factors.

The web site can be used to highlight trends in student enrollment, review financial aid policy, evaluate colleges' success at enrolling and graduating students, and much more.  It will also help identify areas where more data is needed, and reveal discrepancies that can help improve data collection by institutions and the federal government.

Developed with primary support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and additional support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, and Open Society Institute, EconomicDiversity.org is operated by the non-profit Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) in partnership with MPR Associates, a research firm.  The information in the database is derived primarily from U.S. Department of Education sources.

“Racial diversity in higher education has long been a matter of public concern and information, as it should be,” said Richard Kahlenberg, Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation and editor of America's Untapped Resource: Low Income Students in Higher Education. “But economic diversity has been shrouded in secrecy.  TICAS's new database shines crucial light on this long-ignored issue.  Economicdiversity.org does a better job than any tool I've seen of letting researchers and the public know how much income diversity exists at various colleges.”

Other higher education leaders and experts in education and student loan policy also praised EconomicDiversity.org.

“The creation of this new database is a most impressive accomplishment,” said William G. Bowen, the former president of Princeton University, current president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and coauthor of Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education, which makes the case for improved college access for low-income students.  “The database will help higher education leaders and policy makers calibrate the degree to which institutions are enrolling students from diverse backgrounds.  It should also assist all of us in our efforts to identify ways in which colleges and universities can continue to improve access to educational opportunities by students from lower-income families.”

EconomicDiversity.org includes data on public and private non-profit four-year colleges and universities, and public two-year community colleges.  It includes data for both the 2000-01 and 2003-04 academic years.  Examples of information that can be derived from this data include:

  • At large research universities (more than 10,000 full-time equivalent students), the proportion of Pell Grant recipients ranges from less than 10 percent at institutions that include Boston University and the University of Delaware, to more than 40 percent at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the University of Texas at El Paso. 
  • Students at Idaho State University graduate with an average of nearly $30,000 of debt, while those at the state's other four-year public institution, the University of Idaho, carry closer to the national average of $20,000 in loans.  Both universities charge less than $3,500 in tuition, but Idaho State enrolls more low-income students. 
  • A larger proportion of students took out federal Stafford loans to attend North Country Community College in Saranac Lake, NY (tuition $3,300) than to attend Cornell University (tuition $28,754). 
  • Tuition charges at Trident Technical College, a two-year public institution in Charleston, SC, increased by 78 percent between 2000-1 and 2003-4.  Over the same period, there was a 38 percent increase in the number of students enrolling full-time.   

“We expect that this new data base will both answer some questions, and raise new ones,” said Robert Shireman, director of TICAS.  “Our goal is for researchers, journalists, and policy makers to mine the information, seek the stories behind the numbers, and use that knowledge to improve college access and success.  Also, we hope to identify ways to improve the quality and usefulness of the data that is collected.”

About TICAS

The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) works to make higher education more available and affordable for people of all backgrounds. To improve educational achievement and expand opportunity, TICAS promotes research-based program design, responsible stewardship of tax dollars and charitable giving, and practical policy solutions. Founded in 2004, TICAS is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.

Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, visit the Project on Student Debt Web site or visit the The Project on Student Debt on PewHealth.org.

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