The independent news organization of Duke University

Low-income students

As admissions deadlines for the Class of 2012 approach, Duke is working to diversify the socioeconomic backgrounds of applicants.

Currently, more than half of Duke students receive no financial aid and fewer than 20 percent come from families with incomes of $60,000 or less, reports the Institute for College Access and Success. According to U.S. News & World Report, Duke ranks 20th among its peer institutions in awarding Pell Grants, federal funding given to the neediest students.

Officials said the University has several initiatives aimed at recruiting lower-income students.

Nationwide, students from the top income quartile are 25 times as likely to attend a top-tier college as those from the bottom quartile, according to a study by the Educational Testing Service.

Part of this disparity is due to the wealth of the high schools from which schools like Duke draw their applicants, said Victoria Lodewick, director of the University Scholars Program, Duke's only need-contingent merit scholarship.

"Sixty percent of Duke students receive no aid," she said. "This is the challenge of trying to reach out and educate students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. How do you let them know there are opportunities for them to attend elite private institutions like Duke?"

Each year, Duke participates in Exploring College Options, a joint recruitment program with several other selective universities that connects Duke admissions officers with more than 25,000 students in all 50 states and several international locations.

The admissions staff also visits another 800 high schools individually, said Leonard Satterwhite, acting dean of undergraduate admissions. He added that most of these schools are chosen because they have sent students to Duke in the past.

By working with nonprofit organizations such as Prep for Prep, a New York-based group that mentors high-achieving low-income students throughout middle and high school, Duke is increasingly reaching out to students who may be excluded from the traditional admissions tours, Satterwhite said.

"The notion that Duke costs $48,000 per year is a disincentive for many students," he said. "Part of the challenge is making families aware that aid is available."

In addition to the University Scholars Program, which awards full tuition to a select group of high-achieving students who also qualify for financial aid, Duke's admissions process has been need-blind for more than three decades, said Director of Financial Aid Jim Belvin,

Duke also commits itself to meeting 100 percent of the demonstrated need of accepted students as determined by the University.

"If a student is eligible to attend Duke, financial situation should not be a barrier to matriculation," Belvin said.

Lodewick said Duke should reach out to potential applicants from a wider range of economic and educational backgrounds in order to diversify its student body.

"Our education system is based on the myth of meritocracy," she said. "With kids from lower-income backgrounds, it's still those who are the exceptions to the rule who go on to succeed [in college admissions]."

Anne Moriarity, a freshman, said she feels that the University is far from socioeconomically balanced, but added that this has little effect on campus interaction.

"I don't know who's wealthy and who's not," she said. "When we're all hanging out, no one is asking who's on financial aid."


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