The share of UC San Diego freshmen receiving Pell Grants dropped 20 percent since 2012, according to a recent article published in The New York Times. This is the largest percentage drop at any public college in the last five years.
Pell Grants are a form of federal financial aid given to low-income undergraduate students. Financial need is determined as a difference between cost of attendance and expected family contribution. The maximum award is $5920 over twelve months, but smaller amounts are given to part-time students, and those who take classes for less than the full academic year.
Though UCSD is one of the top schools making an effort to admit low-income students, ranked fourth on The New York Times College Access Index, the campus is following a national trend away from reflecting economic diversity. The index takes into account the share of incoming freshmen receiving Pell Grants, the graduation rates of respective Pell recipients, and the average price that schools charged students with annual family incomes between $30,000 and $75,000. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of UCSD freshmen receiving Pell Grants dropped from 46 percent to 26 percent.
“When I first saw that number in The Times database, I figured it was a typo,” wrote New York Times columnist David Leonhardt.
The percentage of Pell recipients at private colleges has consistently remained around 16 percent, which Leonhardt argues is a sign that public universities are struggling to accommodate students with rising education costs. He warns that this burden falls on higher-income students to pay higher tuition, and devastates opportunities for lower-income students who simply cannot afford to attend college.
The share of freshmen receiving Pell Grants at all top public universities fell from an average of 24.3 percent to 21.8 percent in the past five years. State funding for higher education has decreased every year since 2008 in all states except for Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, and Wisconsin.
“The decline of economic diversity at top public colleges is the clearest pattern in The Times’s third annual ranking of leading colleges,” Leonhardt wrote.
Third year UCSD public policy student Esmeralda Vasquez believes that regardless of these changes, many low-income resident students feel the effects of increased education costs. “They’re just looking out for the future,” she said. “However, they are affecting the current and future students. Disadvantaged communities are being hurt even more because of this.”
Following the 2016 California State Audit of the UC, which found that the UC has admitted 16,000 nonresident students with GPAs and standardized test scores below the median level for residents, the University Office of the President implemented an 18 percent enrollment cap on out of state and international students starting this fall.
Top public universities are also increasingly admitting out-of-state students over resident students. Leonhardt argues that this is occurring because college officials “are trying to lift their campus’s national profile, not to mention its U.S. News ranking” and claims that as a result of lower acceptance rates into high-ranking public universities, lower-income students are enrolling in lower-tier colleges with smaller endowments and lower graduation rates.
“I find this really worrisome because investments in education, historically, have really paid for themselves,” Leonhardt recently told NPR. “And the idea that we’re making it harder for lower and middle-income Americans to go to flagship public universities strikes me as really short-sighted and self-defeating.”
Betsy Meeker is a contributing writer for The Triton.