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Pell Kvelling

June 08, 2013

On May 30th, in the context of a coming U.S. Supreme Court decision on race and affirmative action that virtually everyone in higher education is anticipating, the New York Times had an article about socio-economic diversity in higher education.

Eligibility for federal Pell grants – which is determined by a government formula -- is considered the key sign of a student's – and a student's family's -- economic need. The piece, by Richard Pérez- Peña, examines how widely the percentage of Pell-eligible students varies among universities.

A chart that accompanies the story has some surprises – not just variation between public university systems, but also the fact that some schools with the reputation for the most generous financial aid do not end up with highest percentage of Pell-eligible students.

NYU wasn’t on the chart. But we've re-created it and dropped NYU in:BarGraphNYU20130731

Notice where we end up on the chart. More than 1/5 of NYU's undergraduates are Pell-eligible – a higher percentage than many schools against which we compete for students and faculty, schools that have per student endowment resources far greater than our own.

That's a source of pride for us.

For one thing, it connects us to our founding mission: in the early 19th century, when a university education was the exclusive province of the rich and the elite, NYU was established to serve a broader base; more than many colleges in our peer group, it is often the case that NYU educates the first person in a family to attend college. For another thing, it adds diversity to our undergraduate experience, as does the growing number of international students in our freshman class.

NYU is "need-blind" in its admissions policy: we accept members of the freshmen class regardless of their ability to pay. But even though virtually all our financial aid is awarded based on need and is directed to the neediest students, we have fewer financial aid resources than many of the colleges that are our academic peers and competitors; when you combine that with the fact that a higher percentage of our class has deeper need (i.e., they're Pell-eligible), that makes it even harder to stretch the financial aid budget (which exceeds $190 million/year).

That means that when a young person chooses to come here, he or she may well be choosing NYU over another university offering more generous financial aid. That's not only another point of pride – that's humbling. And it's the reason financial aid is our number one fundraising priority.

--John Beckman

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