Opinions

A Tale of Two CMCs

Increasing racial diversity at_x000D_
colleges and universities across the United States has been a topic fiercely_x000D_
discussed since the civil rights era in the 1960s. While there’s still a ways to_x000D_
go, studies show racial diversity across America’s college campuses has been_x000D_
increasing, slowly but surely.
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Diversity, however, goes beyond just_x000D_
race.

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Even though socioeconomic diversity_x000D_
is equally important—and inextricably linked—to its racial counterpart, it hasn’t_x000D_
been in the spotlight nearly as much as it should.

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The situation is particularly dire_x000D_
at the nation’s elite colleges and universities. A report by The New York_x000D_
Times
found that there was “virtually no change from the 1990s to 2012 in_x000D_
enrollment of students that are less well off [at selective colleges] even though_x000D_
there was a huge increase over that time in the number of such students going_x000D_
to college.”

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Elite colleges carry a prestige that_x000D_
in many ways allows their graduates to attain powerful economic, political and_x000D_
social footing. This means that if elite colleges are primarily made up of_x000D_
society’s upper classes, whiffs of oligarchy begin to penetrate our democracy.

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It is the responsibility of every_x000D_
elite college in the United States, then, to do everything in its power to open_x000D_
its doors for high-achieving, low-income students. Not only would it grant such_x000D_
students a good chance of escaping poverty, but it would instill a sense of_x000D_
respect for peoples of all income levels within its student body—respect that_x000D_
might have not come otherwise.

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Thankfully, most of the admissions_x000D_
data from the Claremont Colleges shows yearly increases in admitted students_x000D_
that qualify to receive Federal Pell Grants—with one notable exception (see_x000D_
Table 1).

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According to data obtained from The_x000D_
New York Times‘, Claremont McKenna College decreased its_x000D_
total number of enrolled first-year Pell Grant recipients from 13 percent in_x000D_
2008 to 11 percent in 2013, making CMC the only Claremont College that has_x000D_
lowered its overall first-year socioeconomic diversity within the last five_x000D_
years.

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To the unsuspecting eye, a two percent_x000D_
decrease over the course of half a decade might seem an easily dismissible_x000D_
statistic unworthy of attention or analysis. CMC’s track record clearly shows otherwise.

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Contextualizing Diversity

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In 2008, 82 international students_x000D_
were enrolled at CMC. By 2013, that number nearly tripled to 224, representing_x000D_
17 percent of the total student body (Table 2). The vast majority of_x000D_
international students pay full or near-full cost of attendance, a whopping_x000D_
$60,010 per year.

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It’s also worth noting that_x000D_
international students factor into CMC’s racial demographics. However, the_x000D_
majority of international students that are considered racial minorities in the_x000D_
U.S. are of Asian descent; out of the 224 international students enrolled at_x000D_
CMC in 2013, more than half came from China, India or Korea.

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Of course, CMC diversifying its_x000D_
student body by admitting more international students is not inherently_x000D_
suspect. What makes CMC worthy of criticism are the other admission trends that_x000D_
have occurred in tandem.

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In 2008, CMC ended its Los_x000D_
Angeles Posse Scholar program four years after its inception. Then, in 2009,_x000D_
CMC discontinued its partnership with QuestBridge after only two years due_x000D_
to “financial considerations.” Both programs aim to attract low-income youth_x000D_
from across the United States, especially those residing in urban areas.

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The slashing of these programs_x000D_
directly relates to the overall stagnation in Pell Grant-eligible students._x000D_
This is clearly shown by the fact that CMC admitted cohorts from both Posse and_x000D_
QuestBridge in 2007 and 2008, matching with the five-year-high of 14 percent of_x000D_
the student body composed by Pell Grant recipients in 2011.

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There are two possibilities, then._x000D_
Best-case scenario, it’s a coincidence that CMC’s international student body_x000D_
has increased at least two percentage points since 2010 while the percentage of_x000D_
low-income students stagnated. Worst-case scenario, CMC consciously chose to_x000D_
widen its doors for wealthy international students as it simultaneously took_x000D_
away streams of access for low-income students of color.

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Data for the class of 2018 could_x000D_
point us, in some ways, toward the right answer. Unfortunately, such data_x000D_
hasn’t been approved by the school to be used in a public forum. But the number_x000D_
makes it seem as though the international student body is on an upward slope_x000D_
that doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. Pell Grant recipients, on_x000D_
the other hand, haven’t even reached the 15 percent benchmark that the_x000D_
international student body crossed in 2012.

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At this point, I want to clarify_x000D_
that I do not wish to set our culturally rich international students against_x000D_
their low-income peers. The issue of extreme over-representation of the wealthy_x000D_
and upper-middle classes applies to domestic students as well. According to a_x000D_
CMC brochure available online, 40 of the incoming first-years in 2008 came from a_x000D_
yearly family income of $200,000 or higher, the largest subset of any income_x000D_
level. Out of the 392 total incoming students in 2008, 242 of them—61_x000D_
percent—had family incomes of $75,000 or higher.

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While there is no similar data for_x000D_
other incoming classes, it is not a stretch of the imagination to predict that_x000D_
the college’s income makeup hasn’t changed much since then.

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A Promising Future?

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It’s important to note that many of_x000D_
the statistics listed above were overseen by former CMC president Pamela Gann_x000D_
and her administration. Indeed, current president Hiram Chodosh seems_x000D_
especially weary of the lack of socioeconomic diversity on campus. 

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The Student Imperative—CMC’s new_x000D_
$100 million initiative “aimed at raising financial support (both merit- and_x000D_
need-based), lifting economic barriers to access, and enhancing the_x000D_
undergraduate experience at CMC”—has the potential to solve many, if not all, of_x000D_
the issues raised above. Spearheaded by Chodosh himself, the Student Imperative_x000D_
also emphasizes personal and social responsibility on campus climate issues_x000D_
such as “identity, diversity, and speech.” 

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Unfortunately, rhetoric doesn’t_x000D_
accomplish much. David Leonhardt, the lead author of the Times’ recent data_x000D_
set on college accessibility, wrote that while “dozens of colleges have_x000D_
proclaimed that recruiting a more economically diverse student body was a top_x000D_
priority,” many “have not matched their words with actions.” 

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Those colleges that did follow up on_x000D_
their promises, Leonhardt observes, “changed policies and made compromises_x000D_
elsewhere to recruit the kind of talented poor students who have traditionally_x000D_
excelled in high school but not gone to top colleges.”

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Ultimately, CMC is at a crossroads:_x000D_
Will we join Leonhardt’s list of deceptive colleges, or will we live up to our_x000D_
word and widen our doors to high-achieving students of low-income backgrounds,_x000D_
even if it means shortening the massive gates available to the upper_x000D_
class? 

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Regardless, we cannot sell ourselves_x000D_
short. Admitting and enrolling more low-income students is just the beginning_x000D_
of a long, grueling and culturally shifting challenge.

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Besides focusing on admissions, CMC_x000D_
needs foster a new social infrastructure which will allow non-white,_x000D_
non-affluent students to feel as welcome and secure as their privileged peers._x000D_
This goes beyond the mantra of “personal and social responsibility” preached by_x000D_
the Student Imperative.

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It means using some of our $600 million_x000D_
endowment to implement new programs strictly aimed at increasing the_x000D_
number of low-income students of color. One way the school could begin do this_x000D_
is by reinstating Posse and QuestBridge—or partnering up with similar_x000D_
programs—as soon as possible.

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The college should also consider_x000D_
implementing an income-based affirmative action policy, especially since race-based_x000D_
affirmative action has been losing public and judicial support over the last_x000D_
decade.

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“The happiest college in the world” must_x000D_
trade in its discourse of unabashed happiness for one of cold-hearted honesty._x000D_
We must look at ourselves in the mirror, point out all of our institutional_x000D_
flaws, and debate the alternatives. Only then do we have a shot of taking that_x000D_
happiness beyond the realms of Green Beach and TNC. 

Carlos Ballesteros CM ’16 is a sociology and history double major from Chicago, Illinois.

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