Liberal arts schools
April 17, 2013 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Do you know of any liberal arts colleges that are especially interested in recruiting and supporting low income students, students of color, and/or first generation college students with good financial aid? I'm trying to compile a list.
posted by liketitanic to Education (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Work colleges is a good place to start.
posted by headnsouth at 11:48 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ripon College. They offer (or offered, when I was there) significant financial assistance so that the cost of going there was the same or lower as going to a mid-range state school. They're not perfect - they had a few notable missteps on LGBT issues that I'd feel wrong not mentioning - but I got an excellent education there, and they're willing to work with you on special circumstances.
posted by LukeLockhart at 11:50 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Berea College

It's pretty specific to kids from Appalachia. Does that help? Husbunny's an Alum and it's on the list of Work Colleges!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:50 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thirding (on review) Work Colleges. Also look for smaller colleges with large endowments.
posted by mareli at 11:57 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check out the schools with need-blind admission.
posted by susanvance at 11:57 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might look at the Questbridge Program and its partners. In my experience elite liberal arts colleges are very interested in building a more diverse student body; they vary in how generous their aid packages are, and I know many schools had to scale back after the financial crisis hit their endowments. And beyond financial aid, the extent to which students who are low income or students of color subjectively feel supported varies a lot between schools, years and individuals. Many of these schools do their best, but it's hard to change a culture that assumes stuff like parental financial support and certain educational backgrounds.
posted by MadamM at 12:02 PM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'll put in a plug for my own school and mention that Swarthmore is a college that offers need-blind admission to students. They are very committed to all kinds of diversity.
posted by mlle valentine at 12:12 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Amherst College has a reputation for being extremely good about financial aid and actively recruiting low-income students.
posted by forkisbetter at 1:02 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not exactly an answer to your question, but it may be of interest to your project. My alma mater, Wesleyan University, has, I regret to say, recently brought to an end its need-blind admissions policy. This has caused quite a stir recently, as it did when I was a student there in 1991. At that time, students rallied and the policy was saved; this time around, students rallied and the policy did not survive. You can read about the recent controversy here and here, for starters.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:16 PM on April 17, 2013

I've heard that Smith offers a fantastic program for low income non-traditional students with incredible aid.
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:20 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Smith College is frikkin' amazing for aid.

So are:

Bay Path

Elms College

Simmons College

University of Hawaii, Manoa

Amherst College

Xavier University, in New Orleans




University of MD, CP

You might also want to check out schools that College Summit works with -- those schools are specifically offering CS participants aid, etc., and normally participating in that kind of program is a sign the college/university is invested in supporting the needs of low income youth and youth of color.
posted by spunweb at 1:45 PM on April 17, 2013

Wellesley is also need blind and has a summer program for incoming first year students who might want extra pre-college prep (one of my roommates went through it). And, well, is super supportive on many fronts. I don't know about active recruitment, though.
posted by lyra4 at 1:50 PM on April 17, 2013

I know that some small liberal arts colleges like Grinnell have been trying to up their economic and racial/ethnic diversity by partnering with the Posse Foundation, although that's fairly limited in terms of raw numbers.
posted by col_pogo at 2:10 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely the schools that participate in the Posse program.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:13 PM on April 17, 2013

My alma mater, Macalester College in MN, was really good for this. At one point there was a study out showing that our student body had a lower average family income than the student body of the University of Minnesota, and it cost my family about the same for me to go there as it would have cost to go to my home state university, UMass. Though they've gotten rid of need-blind admissions, so I imagine this has changed somewhat.
posted by lunasol at 2:17 PM on April 17, 2013

I second all of the Questbridge partner schools. Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, and Mount Holyoke all have programs for non-traditional aged women and strong financial aid programs. In general, you want to look for colleges that promise 3 things (in order of importance):

1) meets full demonstrated need
2) need-blind admission
3) capped loans or no-loans policy, sometimes for all students but more often for families under a certain income threshold

It's been a while since I researched this topic extensively, and the landscape has changed significantly since 2010 when a few schools retracted or modified their student-loan pledges. Project on Student Debt has a slightly oudated list that you can start with.

Some schools to look at in particular, all very selective but less crazy-selective for students of color (including Asian students) and first-generation students, who still have no-loans (and of course full-need/need-blind) FA policies: Amherst, Swarthmore, Pomona, Haverford, Colby, Davidson. Other schools that generally do a good job with meeting high need, often with limited loans for low-income students: Middlebury, Williams, Grinnell (may be changing soon, not for the better), Oberlin, plus the four women's colleges mentioned above and Scripps (rather overlooked outside California, I feel, among highly selective liberal arts colleges).

Among schools that are NOT need-blind but try to be "mostly" need-blind, I also want to mention Carleton, Macalester, Wesleyan (in CT), and Reed.
posted by serelliya at 2:21 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and Hamilton College, which added need-blind to full-need in 2010, though no explicit pledges on loan amounts. It's a bit less selective than some of the other schools I listed above, especially for an East Coast location.
posted by serelliya at 2:32 PM on April 17, 2013

I'm sure there are schools wealthy enough for this to not be an issue, but there can be a tension between need-blind admissions on one hand, and being able to provide sufficient financial aid on the other. My wife and I lived in Oberlin for a long time and my wife worked in fundraising there. Oberlin used to be need-blind, but even with its substantial endowment there was never enough spare money to fund the educations of all the less-affluent students that had been admitted, so many of them dropped out before finishing their degrees. So Oberlin dropped the need-blind admissions, to the dismay of many alumni, but now guarantees that if you get in, they will make sure you can afford to finish. According to my wife's former colleagues in the admissions office, financial need is still a secondary consideration and doesn't pose a problem for otherwise well-qualified applicants.

FWIW, Oberlin is very diverse and welcoming to students of all sorts of backgrounds.
posted by jon1270 at 2:34 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Plugging Dartmouth College, which is need-blind and recruits heavily in Native American communities.
posted by rtha at 2:51 PM on April 17, 2013

What is the goal of compiling this list? I ask because this sits at the intersection of a lot of complicated issues.

Financial aid is a common hurdle for the types of students you mention, but it is only one of the issues standing between them and attending, much less graduating from a liberal arts college. For a lot of such students, there are multifaceted cultural and class issues that start before they apply and continue to unfold even once they attend. Further, implementing solutions that work for one class of students, say students of color, won't necessarily address conceptually similar problems for another class of students, such as first to go to college.

Financial aid itself is tricky issue. Need blind admissions sound good in theory, but a school that has a need blind admissions policy without the truly massive financial resources required to back it with financial aid is, in practical terms, no better than some schools who don't claim a need blind admissions policy.

Even worse, the whole higher education ind ustry is wedded to a pernicious bit of Orwellean double-speak: "demonstrated financial need" Demonstrated financial need, as I understand it, is determined by a federally mandated formula which, all too often, fails to describe the experience of the students and their parents. Often, grants to meet the "full demonstrated financial need" of a student still leave a considerable gap that students and parents fill by taking private (high interest loans) and/or working additional jobs (Note: I think this gap is probably more common for middle-class families than it is for low-income families).

Then there are the schools that use excess financial aid as a tool for acquiring desirable students of various demographic and financial qualifications (children of the wealthy, well-off, well-educated, students of color, etc). And the use of early decision to select for full-tuition students while claiming need-blind admissions and generous aid packages. I'm sure I'm forgetting more dirty tricks.

With all that said, I can say that my alma matter, Reed College has an interest as well as some demonstrated success and an ongoing commitment to recruiting and supporting low income students, students of color, and/or first generation college students with good financial aid AND additional support.

Reed doesn't claim need blind admissions. What they do is stack-rank applicants based on non-financial criteria, then they go down the list, assigning financial aid dollars (primarily grants) to each student to meet the "full demonstrated financial need" of each student. Once they run out of $, they skip over students who need financial aid in favor of those who don't. The impact of this approach, in practical terms, is that a couple % of the entering class are people who are nominally less qualified but financially more qualified. Meanwhile ~50% of students receive financial aid, with the average aid award being ~50% of the cost of tuition, room and board. There are quite a full full-ride students in the mix.

However, Reed's success has been uneven. Reed's student body, like that of most top liberal arts colleges, draws heavily on children of professionals and academics. That isn't always a comfortable cultural fit, and Portland may not offer refuge that might be available in other cities. There is a bit of catch 22: Some students don't come, or don't stay because there aren't enough students like them, which leads to there not being enough students like them. It is a tough nut to crack, but the administration has committed resources to making progress, and a number of alumni are working to make even more resources available.
posted by Good Brain at 2:56 PM on April 17, 2013

What is the goal of compiling this list? I ask because this sits at the intersection of a lot of complicated issues.

I work in college access and persistence--specifically in financial aid--so I appreciate your comments, but please just believe that that's all stuff I already think about and I can sort the issues out myself. All I want is a list.
posted by liketitanic at 3:08 PM on April 17, 2013

It would have been useful if you'd included that bit of context in your question.
posted by Good Brain at 3:55 PM on April 17, 2013

I got a ton of need based aid from Earlham College, as did most of the students I talked to who were from lower income backgrounds. The quality of ongoing support beyond the financial aspect was... debated, but I think there was a genuine push to improve it.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:43 PM on April 17, 2013

Well, Good Brain, I asked the question I wanted answered and you didn't wait for the clarification you wanted. I'm sorry you feel put out, though.

Thanks, all. Excellent list.
posted by liketitanic at 6:49 PM on April 17, 2013

occidental college in los angeles. it is considered one of the most diverse colleges and it is a liberal arts school. when i was there most people were on financial aid and there has always been lots of international students. it's also where our president started out in college and he mentions its influence on his life in his bio dreams from my father.
posted by wildflower at 7:13 PM on April 17, 2013

Davidson College in North Carolina has need-blind admissions, meets 100% of demonstrated need, and has a no-loan (all grants/employment) financial aid policy.
posted by fogovonslack at 7:21 PM on April 17, 2013

Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
posted by melesana at 9:31 PM on April 17, 2013

I forgot to mention University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
posted by spunweb at 11:24 PM on April 18, 2013

My undergrad, Manchester College (now University) has around 1/3 first-gen students, possibly more. I wasn't first-gen, so didn't get as much information as my peers, but I know that there was an office supporting them as well as periodic first-gen student events and a mentorship program and stuff.
posted by naturalog at 12:03 AM on April 19, 2013

Maybe you already know about Washington Monthly's college rankings.
posted by wintersweet at 9:44 AM on April 19, 2013

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