We’re hiring a race and equity editor to lead important coverage across the country. And, takeaways from our trip to Pittsburgh

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A newsletter about role of higher education in society — plus Open Campus developments.

Where the Wealthy College Students Are

You may have seen that telling chart in the New York Times earlier this week, highlighting the latest data from Raj Chetty and the Opportunity Insights team. It perfectly boiled down so much that the public already suspects about ultra-selective college admissions: Big surprise, most people said, the rich get into the Ivy League.

The study is the result of a remarkable mash up of data: tax records, college attendance records, SAT scores, and admissions records.

Two of the key findings:

“Ivy-Plus colleges are more than twice as likely to admit a student from a high-income family as compared to low- or middle-income families with comparable SAT/ ACT scores.”

“Higher admission rates for students from high-income families can be attributed to three factors: preferences for children of alumni (legacies), higher non-academic ratings, and athletic recruitment. “

The researchers also released some of the data for the individual colleges. That lets us see much more granular data for lots of places beyond the Ivy League. We built a quick interactive graphic to explore the differences.

Combining tax filings, attendance records, and SAT scores, the researchers were able to look at how students from richer or poorer families — but with the same test scores — enrolled at different rates at specific colleges. (The top 1 percent of families in the study earn more than $611,000 a year. The 80th percentile is around $116,000.)

Poke around a bit in our graphic and you’ll start to see patterns. You can guess which type of college you’re looking at just from the curve of the income-attendance rates.

Hockey stick? That’s Dartmouth or Wake Forest or Elon, an ultra-selective place that seems to be a real magnet for the uber wealthy.

Elon University: Attendance by parental income for students with the same test scores

Bit of a valley before the hockey stick? That’s one of the ultra-selectives that do enroll more low-income students: Amherst, Harvard, Pomona.

Amherst College: Attendance by parental income for students with the same test scores

Little mountain near the 90th percentile? Might be a private that doesn’t enroll quite as many of the super-rich. Looking at you Case Western Reserve.

Generally flat and then a steep dip? Probably one of our public research universities. My home-state Rutgers is the most extreme example.

— Scott Smallwood

Explore attendance rates by family income for 136 selective colleges

++ The Opportunity Insights study • The non-technical summary of the paper • The raw data

What Pittsburghers think about college

I spent two days in Pittsburgh last week talking to Pittsburghers about college alongside our reporter Emma Folts.

Emma leaves a note for a neighbor in Oakland.

A big theme from our conversations: Perception is everything. A Fort Pitt Museum employee told us that the University of Pittsburgh seems inaccessible for most people. An employee at an Irish-themed gift shop said all the colleges seem too expensive these days. A barista said that once people move to Pittsburgh, nobody seems to leave.

We know that perception of colleges and their roles in communities matter — perhaps even more than reality. At a time when just 36% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in higher ed, the stories we tell ourselves and others matter.

A few tidbits from our conversations:

  • Emma talked to a group of Starbucks baristas — one of whom is a former Pitt student who dropped out recently after struggling to navigate paying for school. They couldn’t get enough help from the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid — their sister, who is currently enrolled, is experiencing similar challenges. (Struggles with navigating financial aid was also a big theme of our Cleveland visit this spring.)
  • We talked to young people around the city who have moved to Pittsburgh as adults. They had similar reasons for doing so: Pittsburgh offers the activity of a big city without feeling as overwhelming or being as expensive as Philly or New York. You can rent an apartment without needing a roommate, they said. There’s lots to do on the weekends, but it’s not overly touristy. Cool restaurants don’t require reservations made weeks ahead of time.
  • We visited Oakland, a neighborhood near Pitt where Emma spent time reporting last summer. Much of the housing is taken up by students — and the city has sought to build more dense development there. We talked with a neighbor on Coltart Avenue who has lived there for nearly three decades. It hasn’t always been easy — or quiet. But she’s feeling more at peace this summer with the role of Pitt in the neighborhood.
  • The Community College of Allegheny County came up in a few of our conversations. It helps make higher education accessible, one person told us. Despite that perception, the college has struggled to bring students back after the pandemic, having lost about 35% of its student body since fall 2019.
Me, Emma, and Halle at a seafood restaurant in the Strip District.

I also had lunch with Emma and Halle Stockton, the executive director and EIC of PublicSource. I saw their artsy hybrid office space. I ran on a graffiti-covered path along the Monongahela River. Alas, I didn’t ride an incline.

— Colleen Murphy

We’re hiring!

We’re hiring a race and equity editor to help our partner newsrooms produce knowing, in-depth stories about multiple aspects of race and equity in higher ed. This person will also support editors and student reporters in our HBCU Student Journalism Network.

A few key details:

  • Deadline to apply is Aug. 18
  • Salary range is $85,000 – $100,000
  • Benefits include 20 vacation days, plus sick leave and major holidays; 401(k) and matching; and six months of paid family leave.

What does it take to get to college?

A feedlot sign outside Garden City, Kan. Photo: Nick Fouriezos

Everything changed for Ashlee Villarreal when Evelyn Irigoyen-Aguirre arrived. They first met at the career center at Garden City High School, in rural Kansas. Evelyn had graduated from the high school, and returned to town to work as a college adviser. Ashlee was starting her junior year, looking for answers to the many college questions others hadn’t had the time for. Nick Fouriezos, our reporter covering rural higher ed, told Ashlee and Evelyn’s stories in an article that was co-published with USA Today this week.

Garden City is a meatpacking town that has grown into a melting pot over the last few decades. Ashlee’s parents — her Tejano father, her Mexican mother — arrived when she was young, part of an influx of Latino families. Like many, they came to work at the Tyson Foods meatpacking plant.

Navigating the college process — on top of work, extracurriculars, and family responsibilities — wasn’t easy for Ashlee. Her parents didn’t know how to help her.

Evelyn understood those challenges. That empathy is part of the power of the Kansas State Advising Corps, which hires “near-peer advisers” who have similar backgrounds and are close in age to the students they help.

With Evelyn’s help, Ashlee applied for a four-year, full-ride scholarship for low-income Kansans. Ashlee got the scholarship. She’s headed to Wichita State this fall.

++ Charlotte West, our reporter covering prisons, wants to talk to formerly incarcerated borrowers with student loan debt. Fill out this short form if you’d like to participate.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

Airplanes and helicopters in the Aviation Technology building at West Los Angeles College Campus in Culver City. (Photo: Julie A Hotz/CalMatters)

From California: California’s community college system had set a goal of increasing the number of students that transfer to a four-year institution. It’s falling short, writes Adam Echelman for our parter CalMatters.

He writes: Of the students enrolled in a community college in California who said they wanted to transfer to a four-year university, an average of 9.9% went on to enroll at a four-year institution in 2021, the most recent data available.

From Cleveland: Cuyahoga Community College is joining a group of community colleges that will expand workforce training capacity, writes Amy Morona at Signal Cleveland. Fifteen colleges are in the cohort, led by New America.

From Mississippi: The new interim band leader at Delta State University mocked trans people and women on a podcast he co-hosted, writes Molly Minta.

“Imagine you’re an 18-year-old band kid, probably one of the queerer groups in Mississippi — not to stereotype the whole group but a lot of band kids end up somewhere in that alphabet — and now you’re going to college and you’re like ‘I’m gonna be free for once’ and you wind up with this,” Jonathan Szot, a library assistant at Delta State who has helped organize on-campus Pride events, told Molly.

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