Marist Welcomes its Most Diverse Freshman Class
Expanding diversity among student demographics is a pervasive struggle for many small, private colleges and universities in the United States, and Marist College is no exception. But in keeping with its efforts to diversify, the school had a breakthrough with its class of 2022.
“This group of freshmen is the most racially and ethnically diverse in the College’s history, with students from underrepresented groups comprising 23 percent of Marist’s incoming class, which reflects the College’s strong commitment to admitting a diverse student body,” Marist lauded in a press release distributed August 22.
The statistic edges out that of the previous two years. In 2016, students from ethnically underrepresented groups comprised 21.7 percent of the freshman class, and in 2017, the number dropped to 20.9 percent.
Marist also applauded the geographic diversity of its freshmen, with more than 56 percent of students hailing from outside New York and 48 international students representing a range of countries including Somalia, Nigeria, Argentina, and Vietnam, among others.
“[Diversifying] has historically been a part of our strategic plan. In the classroom, we want to have a diverse group of perspective and experiences and viewpoints,” said Kent Rinehart, dean of undergraduate admission. “We’re looking for our classes to be a microcosm for the world today.”
While 1,190 new freshman launched their college careers at the Poughkeepsie campus on Monday, another 36 began classes at the college’s secondary campus in Florence, Italy. Twenty-nine also traveled to Dublin, Ireland to take part in Marist’s new Freshman in Dublin Experience, which it piloted this academic year.
Marist boasted promising outcomes in terms of expanding ethnic, racial, and geographic diversity, but one statistic still lingers in question: the number of students from low-income families.
Increasing socio-economic diversity has been a primary focus for the school in recent years. It continues to grapple with the challenge of attracting individuals from low-income families, while still maintaining the tuition of a private college.
“We have a higher initial price tag which may turn some families off,” Rinehart said.
The New York Times’ College Access Index, which analyzes the socio-economic diversity of schools with graduation rates higher than 75 percent, found that about 70 percent of Marist students come from the top 20 percent (families making $110,000 or more per year), and seven percent come from the top 1 percent (families making $630,000 or more per year).
In comparison, only three percent of students represent the bottom 20 percent (families making $20,000 or less annually).
The analysis, which measured schools’ commitment to economic diversity based on a combination of the number of lower- and middle-income students as well as the tuition price of a given school, indicated a staggering need for Marist to improve economic diversity among its students students. The college was ranked 164 out of 171 colleges studied, with number one representing the school with the greatest commitment.
However, expanding socio-economic diversity is largely complicated by the issue of endowments, which many schools use to provide financial support to low-income students. Given Marist’s young roots, its endowment is relatively small compared to that of other colleges such as Vassar, making it much more challenging for the school to provide financial assistance and expedite the process of diversifying.
“It is a top priority for me going forward to increase that endowment,” David Yellen, Marist College president, told The Circle in April. “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.”
Rinehart was unsure as to the socio-economic statistics of the freshman class, though he said the school is making progress in achieving its goals in that area.
“Certainly, we are trying to diversify our student population socio-economically,” he said. In 2017, Marist joined the American Talent Initiative, a program that focuses on increasing and sustaining the number of students from low-income families attending top-performing colleges. The school ushered in a number of students through this program last year.
Overall, Rinehart describes Marist as a “leader” in the area of increasing diversity. Though the school may struggle to compete with universities such as Fordham, which, as Rinehart says, have access to a huge population of students, it is outperforming other similarly-situated schools such as Siena College and Sacred Heart University.
“The number of high school students that are graduating have become more and more diverse,” Rinehart said. “We need to continue to engage those populations in significant ways.”