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Credit: Joy Lee

GROUP THINK is the DP’s round table section, where we throw a question at the columnists and see what answers stick. Read your favorite columnist, or read them all.

This week's question: What do you think of the economic diversity at Penn given the recent The New York Times report on economic classes and college admissions? Is there a significant lack of economic diversity at Penn? If so, what do you think the school should do about it?

Shawn Srolovitz | Srol With It

As Penn continues to become a more diverse place, it is important to consider how we can better support these students as they come to our campus. Resources like the Greenfield Intercultural Center and organizations like Penn First are great initiatives to help support first-generation, low-income students, but administrators and student leaders should continue to develop ways to improve the Penn experience for these students. Additionally, as students who are lucky to attend an institution like Penn, it is also our duty to give back to the Philadelphia community and help to bridge the gap for underrepresented students in Philadelphia.

Emily Hoeven | Growing Pains

It did not surprise me that more students on Penn's campus come from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent. However, it is a discomfiting fact. And it made me aware all over again of the fact that for economically middle-class families and low-income families, the $70,000/year tuition for Penn is beyond staggering. It's actually almost incomprehensible that an education could cost this much money. It seems to me that this issue, above all else, needs to be addressed. If we want to see more socio-economic diversity on campus — which we ought to — the price of tuition itself needs to be examined. Why in the world is it so expensive, and what can be done to lower it? It's not sustainable for anyone if the price of tuition continues to rise each year. Of course, this is an incredibly complicated issue and I am not informed on all of its nuances, but it seems to me that if the cost of tuition itself were cheaper, there would be less pressure on families from all socio-economic backgrounds, and the school's financial aid program could be handled more efficiently and equitably.

James Lee | The Conversation

It’s certainly regrettable that Penn lacks economic diversity, but I’m not particularly surprised by the findings of the article. I will say that Penn is probably not the only institution that suffers from this problem. However, the University’s response cited in the article seems too narrowly focused on the total amount of aid given out, and does not seem to address how such funds are allocated. The exclusion of the middle class is a serious issue, as well as the lack of recruiting in the poorest parts of the country. Economic diversity is a crucial factor in creating and sustaining the kind of educational environment that Penn should strive for.

Taylor Becker | Right Angles

The recent NYT article simply gave the Penn community some numbers to back up something we already know: Penn is a very rich place. The majority of Penn students do not receive any financial aid, meaning the University has deemed that a majority of the undergraduate families represented here can afford to pay nearly $300,000 for four years of a student's education.

While Penn is very good at providing aid for low-income students (if your family makes less than $40,000 you attend Penn absolutely free), it is not as great at making college affordable for students from the middle income brackets. For instance, if a family makes between $70,000-$99,999, the median grant is just under $57,000. With an annual cost of attendance of $70,000, this means that a family making $70,000 a year is expected to find somewhere around $13,000 (around 20 percent of that family's annual income) for educational expenses. Many times, the student must take out loans for the entire amount, which in this scenario is about $50,000.

The result of all this is that high-achieving students from middle class families who are able to get into Penn are faced with a choice between an Ivy League education that would saddle them with $50,000 of debt, or to attend a less prestigious school which they can likely attend for free with merit scholarships or living at home. Perhaps this is unavoidable, but it appears like a gap that can be fixed. Penn can start by re-evaluating scholarship policies which do not allow students to apply scholarships to their own tuition. In the end, I hope to see a more even distribution of Penn's financial aid policies. 

Reid Jackson | Common Sense

The New York Times reaches a damning analysis that four in ten students from the wealthiest 0.1 percent attend Ivy League or other elite universities, while the same share of students from the bottom 20 percent don't attend university at all. What that striking statistic reveals is actually not very surprising: wealthier students have much more access to resources that could help them get in to top schools. From independent advisors to top SAT tutors, there is an entire economy for the college admissions process. For wealthier students, these resources make a lot of sense, and for Penn prospects can often lead to the coveted “Hurrah!” letter being slipped through the mailbox.

The other side of that equation is that many students from the top 0.1 percent are accepted to the universities that their parents attended and donated to. An unfair advantage, some may argue, but the entire university is served by those donations: new professors, new buildings, new programs are endowed by the wealthiest alumni, not to mention financial aid and scholarships. If legacy students are given a higher chance of acceptance, the university at large actually benefits substantially.

For Penn, being at No. 29 on the list of the least economically diverse universities in America should be concerning. The solution is not to change its approach to alumni and development, but instead to simplify the admissions process so that there is no notable advantage to employing a college advisor, and to help increase access to admissions resources like SAT help for poorer high school students.

Amy Chan | Chances Are

It's coincidental that this question comes up, because I was just talking about this issue with some other study-abroad students this week. I do think Penn has a significant lack of economic diversity, and it is probably one of the issues I find most irritating about Penn. As to what the school should do about it, it's an incredibly difficult question. The only solution I can think of would be for the school to reach out and actively try to recruit and accept students of a lower, more varied economic background, a sort of "affirmative action." However, the question then arises of whether or not we risk lowering academic standards for that, and moreover how realistic of a solution that would actually be. I think that certainly Penn could do it if they had the will — they most certainly have the money. And I think that the idea of "lowering academic standards" for lower class students is itself a sort of prejudiced idea, and one that would and should be abolished if Penn prioritized economic diversity on their campus.