Marist Struggles to Increase Economic Diversity


College affordability has become a leading topic of debate in the United States. As college tuition increases, low-income families struggle to support the costs of higher education.

The New York Times College Access Index analyzes colleges and universities in the United States with a five-year graduation rate of at least 75 percent. Marist College was among the 171 institutions to make the selective list.

The College Access Index addresses institutional commitment to economic diversity based on a combination of the number of lower and middle-income students at a particular college and the price that college charges these students.

According to the NYT, The College Access Index is “a combination of a college’s Pell graduates and net price, compared with the average school. The index is based on the net price for both the $48,000-to-$75,000 income range shown and the $30,000-to-$48,000 income range.”

A college with an average score on the two measures in combination will receive a one. Scores above one indicate the most effort. Marist College ranks 164th out of 171 schools, scoring a 0.52.

The New York Times also analyzed economic diversity and student outcomes at universities across the United States. According to this report, the median family income of a student from Marist is $148,900.

About seven percent of students at Marist are from the top one percent (families that make $630,000 per year or more) – ranking them 19th out of 614 selective private colleges and 138th of 2,395 colleges in the U.S. in this category.

About 70 percent of Marist students come from the top 20 percent (families that make $110,000 or more per year) – ranking the college 5th out of 614 selective private colleges and 53rd of 2,395 colleges in the U.S. in this category.

In contrast, about three percent of students come from the bottom 20 percent (families that make $20,000 or less per year) – ranking the college 570th of 614 selective private colleges and 2,297th of 2,395 colleges in the U.S. in this category.

“Pell-eligible students, who are the neediest students coming out of high school, are certainly a priority for us,” said Sean Kaylor, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communication at Marist.

Marist’s percentage of Pell-eligible students has hovered around 14 percent over the last five years, according to Kaylor.

Most colleges rely partially on the institution’s endowment to provide financial aid and support for lower-income students. Vassar College – a private college located in Poughkeepsie – ranks 11 on the NYT College Access Index. Vassar’s endowment as of 2016 was about $928.8 million.

Marist’s endowment as of 2016 was about $56.5 million, the sixth smallest out of the 171 institutions featured - a result of Marist’s young roots.

“Unlike schools with huge endowments, we just don’t have the means to fully meet the need of every student,” Kaylor said. “We have a limited aid budget, and we try to distribute that as best as possible...but there’s certainly students who we aren’t able to help enough.”

“It is a top priority for me going forward to increase that endowment,” said David Yellen, president of Marist College. “I’m not satisfied with where we stand on the percent of demonstrated-need covered. We want to be more diverse socio-economically, among other ways.”

Moreover, public and private institutions differ tremendously in terms of funding. Most public institutions are funded by state governments, thus lowering the cost of tuition – especially for in-state students. In contrast, private institutions rely heavily on tuition and private contributions, causing tuition rates to be much higher.

According to Money, the estimated price for students who receive aid at Marist is $38,400, while the average price for low-income students is $19,200. Additionally, Money reports that the percentage of need met at Marist is 64 percent.

Marist College ranks among the most affordable private institutions – compared to competitors such as Colgate, Fordham, Boston College and Northeastern which have a total billable cost upwards of $60,000 a year.

Some colleges and universities have higher tuition which can compensate for lower-income students. The full tuition that wealthy students pay increases funding for need-based financial aid.

Despite these numbers, Marist still falls above the 2016-2017 average total billing cost of private nonprofit four-year institutions in the United States – which is $45,370.

For the 2017-2018 academic year, the cost of full time tuition for freshman students at Marist College is $36,100, plus $15,100 in room & board ($9,600 for housing + $5,500 for the required “anytime dining”) – equating to a total billable cost of $51,200. This doesn’t factor in other costs such as the health insurance plan, textbooks or transportation.

Marist has numerous programs designed to assist low-income students and their families despite challenges of increasing and maintaining economic diversity.

Marist joined the American Talent Initiative (ATI) in 2017. ATI, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, launched in December 2016 and was founded with a national goal of educating 50,000 additional high-achieving, lower-income students at the 270 colleges and universities with the highest graduation rates by 2025.

Based on the most recent federal data available, there are approximately 430,000 lower-income students enrolled at these 270 institutions. ATI’s goal is to increase and sustain the total number of lower-income students attending these top-performing colleges to about 480,000 by 2025.

“ATI now forces us to think about things a little bit more,” said Freddimir García, Special Assistant to the President for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement. “We share information, we share ideas, but we also see where we stand compared to other institutions.”

According to the ATI, member institutions “will set individualized goals with a focus on recruiting students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds through robust outreach;
Ensuring that admitted lower-income students enroll and are retained through practices that have been shown to be effective; Prioritizing need-based financial aid; And minimizing or eliminating gaps in progression and graduation rates between and among students from low-, moderate- and high-income families.”

Additional programs include the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), Upward Bound, the Liberty Partnership Program (LPP), and Bridges to Excellence (B2E) - all of which provide low-income students various opportunities to afford a higher education through Marist.

Garcia emphasized the importance of being honest and transparent with low-income families prior to enrollment. “The one thing we don’t want to do is bring students here for a year, they realize it’s expensive, and they leave,” Garcia said. “We want to bring students here to stay for four years...If Marist is not the right fit, that’s okay too. I think that’s part of the process.”

“We get to know all of these students through our travels, and they’re all great and a lot of them want to come here,” Kaylor said. “The worst part is when they’re admitted and really want to come, but we’re not able to help the family enough financially to make it work.”

Brian EdsallComment