What resources does Duke provide for its first-generation, low-income students?

How well does Duke support its first-generation, low-income students? 

Nearly 4% of Duke students hail from the top 0.1% income bracket, according to The New York Times, and 19% of students come from the top 1%, setting Duke University’s wealth demographics far apart from those of Durham or the country as a whole.

Yet despite the disproportionate distribution of wealth, Duke has also increased its efforts to provide support for low-income students. Today, 52% of undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, and the University meets 100% of demonstrated financial need.

The Chronicle compiled some of the resources that Duke offers to support first-generation and low-income students on campus. 


Established in 2016, the David M. Rubenstein Scholars Program (formerly the Washington Duke Scholars program) is the first competitive scholarship to provide “integrated social, cultural, emotional, academic, and financial support” to low-income and first-generation students at Duke. Students receive 100% loan-free funding of their tuition, and they are granted laptops, enrichment funds and fully-paid summer terms. Besides monetary resources, the program also provides peer mentorship, professional readiness seminars and mental health sessions. 

Duke also partners with Say Yes to Education, the KIPP Foundation, Questbridge and the American Talent Initiative, programs that offer low-income students greater access to higher-education institutions, with the goal of increasing retention and graduation rates. Many of these programs provide comprehensive support, student programming, networking opportunities and internship options. 

However, these are all selective programs and are not open to all first-generation, low-incomes students.

One essential academic resource available to everyone is Duke libraries’ textbook rental program, which allays the financial burden of textbook costs by purchasing and placing the largest 100 courses’ textbooks on reserve for students to rent for up to three hours at a time. Students can check out the books at the Perkins Library Service Desk, with a few titles available at Lilly Library.


Once on campus, Duke also offers a variety of personalized appointments with academic and peer advisors for all students, including Directors of Academic Engagement, Global Education Office advisors, pre-medical advisors and career advisors. The Career Center website also boasts extensive summer internship and employment databases, along with resume and CV assistance. The Career Center also offers the Internship Funding Program, offering a stipend of up to $3,000 for summer internships.

However, although Duke does offer a page listing first-generation, low-income faculty, there are no designated advisors for low-income or first-generation students in the advising or career departments. 

Student life

On the social side of things, the Office of Undergraduate Education hosts events with the Duke Low-Income, First-Generation Engagement student group to “bring the Duke first-generation and/or low-income community together and create relevant identity development programs and activities,” according to their website

From hosting a first-generation, low-income awareness week in November 2019 to community events, Duke LIFE provides a space for students to bond over their shared identity and foster understanding amongst the larger student body about the specific challenges that come with being low-income or first-generation.

This article is part of the wealth gap series. We are exploring how wealth impacts the student experience. Read about the project and explore the rest of the series.


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