Cadillacs mingled with Caravans in the parking lots of East Campus as Duke's freshman class moved in two weeks ago.
The average family income of a Duke student is more than three times the national average, based on a breakdown of demographics in a report published in May 2006 by the Campus Life and Learning Project and in the 2002 U.S. Census, respectively.
Although report researcher Kenneth Spenner, a professor of sociology, said Duke's average income is normal among its peer schools, some said the statistics reinforce a common perception of Duke students as privileged and may point to a culture of affluence on campus.
"I had never heard of North Face or Uggs before coming to Duke," said senior Molly Eggleton. "You have to buy the uniform."
She added that socioeconomic barriers exist at Duke, especially within the Greek system.
Some students, however, said affluence among the student body is less of a social force.
"I don't feel pressured at all to look a certain way," freshman Dani Schocken said.
Administrators have striven to increase socioeconomic diversity with new financial aid policies for some students, saying they are concerned about how the makeup of the student body may be affecting the experience of current students on financial aid.
"Dean Nowicki has made it a really high priority to ensure that students who receive financial aid find Duke a welcoming place," said Susan Kaufman, the director of Communications for the Office of Undergraduate Education. "This is something that does need more attention."
Senior Chad Tudenggongbu, an international student from Tibet, came to the United States expecting wealth. Nonetheless, he said he did sense a contrast beyond Duke's walls.
"You go off campus and then you see another side of America, and you kind of wonder, 'What happened there?'" he said.
Marketplace staffer Shareema Whitely said she is not surprised by Duke's high average family income.
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"It's Duke," Whitely said. "We know y'all's parents have money... [but] you don't see kids wearing Dolce & Gabbana, they just seem like regular kids.... They are respectful, too."
Kaufman said Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki will be working toward completion of the University's Financial Aid Initiative-which launched in 2005-in order to ensure that students on financial aid can take advantage of all the opportunities at Duke.
Duke's particularly high average family income is an indication of the greater educational opportunity afforded by the wealthy, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag explained.
"What [the statistics] reflect to me is that there is unequal educational opportunity at the pre-K through [grade] 12 level in the United States," Guttentag said.
In much of Duke's admissions criteria, increased economic resources do give some students an advantage despite the fact that Duke is a need-blind institution, he said. Guttentag stressed that a goal of Undergraduate Admissions is to ensure that potential applicants are informed about financial aid opportunities.
"The task is to say to a lot of families, 'You need to trust this will work out'," Guttentag said.
Retiring Director of Financial Aid Jim Belvin has said that although there may be competition from other schools to tap low-income talent, Duke has made it a priority.
Recently, the University implemented new financial aid policies, which both Guttentag and Belvin said they hope will affect the situation.
"Without a doubt I think the demographics will change," Belvin said. "There is no question that our new policy will be more welcoming of low- and middle-income families."
The CL&L report's data was gathered through student survey, indicating that the accuracy of the figures may not be completely reliable. The survey asked students to pick from a number of graduated income categories, instead of asking students to report their specific family income.
"Accuracy is going to vary by item," Spenner said, though he reiterated his confidence in the report's methodology.