Princeton Weighs Ideas to Help Low-Income Students

September 10, 2014

Princeton University may soon take several steps to create a campus that is more inclusive to lower-income students, including featuring socioeconomic diversity in freshman orientation and diversity programming, incorporating sensitivity to socioeconomic status in residential housing assignments, and forming a standing committee of administrators to consider polices that affect the educational and social experiences of low-income and first-generation students. The steps are part of a list of recommendations issued Tuesday by a working group appointed by former President Shirley Tilghman and chaired by Valerie Smith, Princeton's undergraduate dean.

While the group found that Princeton's admission and financial aid polices "enabled students from across the socioeconomic spectrum to participate fully in the academic and residential life of the university," it also identified academic challenges that have a "disparate impact on students from lower-income backgrounds." The report noted that students from those backgrounds also faced financial constraints that shut them out of some aspects of campus life, leading them to feel less accepted at the university. The group also recommended:

  • Considering alternative systems for measuring academic performance during freshman year, such as "covering" first-year grades by providing students with complete grades but only reporting on transcripts whether they passed or failed a course.
  • Centralizing systems for monitoring students' academic difficulties.
  • Highlighting the existence of courses that address issues concerning social and economic inequality.
  • Ensuring that panels during the university's Freshman Families Weekend feature socioeconomically diverse students and address concerns most pressing to less prosperous parents.

"Some of the recommendations are already being implemented, and Dean Smith and her colleagues are pursuing some of the others," Christopher Eisgruber, Princeton's president, stated. "Some of the recommendations would require additional consideration before we could decide whether to proceed with them, and in some cases we would need to raise the necessary funds."

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