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Student body lacking in economic diversity

By JM Rieger
On April 19, 2013

The following article is part two of a three-part series on education at Miami University.

Despite rising racial diversity levels over the last 10 years, Miami University has continuously failed to attract economically diverse students, according to analysis by The Miami Student.

As tuition outpaced the national average for four-year public institutions by more than 25 percent, Miami students' family wealth also increased.

More than 30 percent of Miami's 2016 class reported family incomes greater than $200,000 in 2012, more than double the national average for four-year public colleges and universities and a 9 percent increase from 2002. The national average increased less than 6 percent in the same period.

According to UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, which conducts the first-year Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) each year, the nation's economic situation was also less likely to affect Miami students' college choice in 2012, comparatively.

This data follows a December 2012 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research tracking how universities nationwide have failed to attract low-income, high-achieving students, while continuing to draw from a pool of high-income, high-achieving students.

Miami has followed this trend.

Miami students are more than twice as likely to report family incomes above $250,000 and more than 20 percent fell under this income bracket in 2012.

Meanwhile, the median national household income in 2011 was approximately $50,000 and fewer than 5 percent of households earned more than $200,000, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Despite rising incomes, incoming students' academic performance remained relatively constant over the last 10 years. At least one-third of incoming students graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class during that time, and more than 20 percent of Miami students in the class of 2016 had ACT scores above 30, the highest ratio since 2002.

However, Miami's four-year graduation rate decreased nearly 7 percent between 1997 and 2006, the 10 most recent university cohorts.

As average family income has risen, so have the number of out-of-state students.

The number of out-of-state first-year students rose from 27 percent in 2002 to 35 percent in 2012 at Miami, compared to 8 percent statewide in 2011. This number jumps to 14 percent on universities' main campuses, according to the Ohio Board of Regents, although Miami has enrolled the second-fewest in-state students over the past six years, behind only Central State University.

Public universities have also increasingly targeted "full-pay" students, or students without financial need. According to a 2011 Inside Higher Ed survey, more than one third of all four-year institutions reported increasing recruitment efforts for "full-pay" students. These students may often be out-of-staters, according to Miami economics professor James Brock.

"What I've noticed from the very beginning down to the present, is Miami always had a fairly significant draw from upper-middle income families or lower upper-income families," Brock said. "That has always been a very important part of our appeal for a variety of reasons."

As out-of-state recruitment efforts have expanded, Miami has also increased its merit aid, which draws a diverse pool of students according to Ann Larson, director of Miami's Office of Admission. Larson said it is important to make Miami accessible to a broad range of students as a state institution.

"Certainly diversity broadly defined, but you'd like diversity of thought as you read an application," Larson said. "That is incumbent on the reviewers to look at that broad continuum and find differences."

Merit aid increased more than 22 percent from 2002 to 2012 as financial aid continued to play a larger role in students' college decisions. Nearly 37 percent of Miami students said financial aid was "very important" in their decision to enroll in 2012, an increase of more than 19 percent from 10 years earlier, according to CIRP data.

However, low cost of attendance was also significantly less likely to impact Miami students. Nearly 42 percent of all public university students said the cost of attending was "very important" where they enrolled, compared to 30 percent of Miami students. And nearly one half of Miami students reported no concern in their ability to finance college, compared to less than one third of all public university students.

Larson said the university is "need-blind" when reviewing applications though, and does not review a student's economic need until receiving student FAFSA forms, even though less than two-thirds of Miami students complete the form each year.

"We look at racial ethnic diversity, geographic diversity - we don't in admission look at economic diversity," Larson said. "We don't have that access to a student's financial situation; we read our applicants need blind. Do we work and strategically visit, I would say, economically depressed areas [though]? Yes ... then the secondary effort to hopefully fund them with need-based aid and potentially, if they're stronger students, with the merit-based aid money, it will make us accessible to those students."

According to Diversity Affairs Council President Jonathan Wheeler though, economic and racial diversity are equally important and rising tuition makes it impossible for Miami to be economically diverse in the future.

"[Most colleges] have to sacrifice low income students and the benefit of low income students oftentimes, for the security of knowing that the university ... will be able to pay its bills; that is something that Miami has to navigate," Wheeler said. "The numbers don't lie. The white, upper middle class ... often suburban student has those resources, and so that's what's going to make its way to Miami."

Despite economic diversity concerns, Miami's racial diversity has grown over the past five years. More than 11 percent of Oxford campus undergraduates were racial minorities last year and Miami will welcome its most racially diverse class ever this fall.

Miami has expanded recruitment efforts nationwide and internationally, including hiring an assistant director of urban outreach in 2012 and implementing the Miami Access Initiative in 2006, which covers tuition costs for low-income students.

However, increased international recruitment, including a 43 percent increase in the number of Chinese applicants over the last two years, has raised questions among some.

"Increased [international] diversity is an easy way to justify everything," Brock said. "I'm not so sure that we have cultural diversity or just sort of isolated islands of cultural differences that don't really interact with the others."

But according to Nick Miller, incoming president of Student Senate, diversity is important because of its academic contribution.

"We're not looking for increased diversity on campus just to get specific checkboxes and fulfill rankings," Miller said. "It's because diversity adds something to the academic culture of the institution."


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