Penn places a heavy emphasis on diversity in admissions, but according to a newly released study, undergraduates are far from socioeconomically diverse.
A recent survey by Brandeis University of 1,113 randomly selected Penn undergraduates found that among students applying from the United States, zero come from a ZIP code with a median household income in the lowest quintile of income groups.
Only five percent of such students come from ZIP codes in the second lowest quintile, while the vast majority of Penn students come from the top two quintiles — over 70 percent.
According to these statistics, published in a titled “Diversity, Pressure, and Divisions on the University of Pennsylvania Campus,” the Penn undergraduate population does not reflect the socioeconomic diversity of either the United States or Penn’s immediate surroundings in Philadelphia. According to , 20 of Philadelphia’s 46 ZIP codes fall in the lowest quintile of income group, including Penn’s ZIP code, 19104.
Penn Admissions was unavailable for comment on this story.
The study’s suggestion that Penn is not socioeconomically diverse might not be surprising to some — but the magnitude of Penn’s socioeconomic homogeneity is particularly striking. This was certainly the case for College senior and West Philadelphia Tutoring Project chair, Neha Gupta. While Gupta pointed out that Penn was more diverse in other areas, she was troubled by the survey’s findings.
“Penn gets a lot of backlash about not being very diverse, where it is very diverse racially,” Gupta said. “But I do think it’s an issue, because I think that there are more forms of diversity than race, and one of them is socioeconomic background.”
Richard Gelles, a sociologist who served as dean of Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice from 2003-2014 and co-authored the Brandeis study, also expressed concern.
“It is a bit worrisome that in the 19 years I’ve been here, I think we have become — because we have become more selective, and more popular, we’ve become less economically diverse,” Gelles said.
At the same time, Gelles did not find the findings to be very surprising. He pointed out that as long as Penn places such a high emphasis on standardized test scores in admitting students, the University could not be very economically diverse.
“I think there are many talented students who could do well at Penn who aren’t going to score high on their SAT scores for a variety of schooling reasons and vocabulary reasons and reading materials at home,” Gelles said. “Penn is reflecting what’s going on in society, which is concerning, and that is a have and have-not society. That we are — we’re not even a top 10 percent school, we’re a one percent school.”