The students disappearing fastest from American campuses? Middle-class ones

Hechinger Report

HARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Alec Scicchitano may have been considered middle class, but it was still going to be hard for him to afford college.

The son of a single mother who’s a writer, Scicchitano knew he “needed to go to a university that would give really good financial aid” — something many students in the middle class assume they can’t get.

And he didn’t. In his first two years in  college, he got only a small break on tuition. Scicchitano started burning through his savings, though he at least saved money on room and board by commuting from home.

He said it would have been “heartbreaking” if he’d gotten into his dream university but couldn’t pay for it, Scicchitano said.

The proportion of middle-class students like Scicchitano at colleges and universities has been quietly declining, sharply enough that some institutions — worried about the effect on campus diversity and their own bottom lines — have started publicly announcing special scholarships to cover all or most of their tuition.

It may seem counterintuitive to hear that efforts to increase diversity include enrolling more students from the middle class, as opposed to those from families with the lowest incomes. In fact, the proportion of students on college campuses from the lowest-income families is going up, the Pew Research Center reports, while the share of students from the middle has fallen in the last two decades from 48 percent to 42 percent at private, nonprofit institutions, and from 48 percent to 40 percent at public four-year universities.

At the most selective institutions, middle-class students have been displaced by wealthier ones, a study by the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute found. The proportion of those from families earning $53,600 to $98,810 slipped from 25 percent of enrollment in 1999 to 18 percent in 2016…. (continue reading)