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How California Is Helping Low-Income Students Succeed In College

In this Feb. 26, 2015 file photo, students walk on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles.
In this Feb. 26, 2015 file photo, students walk on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles.

When it comes to recruiting and retaining an economically diverse student population, many colleges and universities in the US continue to fall short.

But some schools appear to be doing better than others. Many of them, as it turns out, are located in the same state: California.

In a story published last week in The New York Times’ The Upshot section, David Leonhardt points out that six of the top seven schools ranked in the paper’s second annual College Access Index are University of California campuses. 

The rankings are based on three key factors -- share of students receiving Pell grants, those students’ graduation rates and the annual cost of tuition, fees and housing combined for low- and middle-income students.

While Leonhardt reports that, based on the index, economic diversity at the nation’s top colleges and university has stagnated, some campuses are making progress.

The University of California schools are seeing success, he argues, because of their “aggressive” push to keep tuition affordable for low-income, first-generation students and to prioritize the community-college transfer pipeline. 

This achievement is at risk, however, because state funding stagnation -- and threats of further cuts -- have made for a lower number of in-state students being enrolled at the state’s public universities when compared with wealthier out-of-state and international students, who pay higher tuition. 

The feature includes video interviews with students who participate in LEDA, a national program that helps low-income students succeed in college, and who spoke to the challenges they’ve encountered while pursuing their education.

In a companion piece to the new index, Leonhardt reports on the increased popularity of an easier-to-understand financial-aid calculator developed by Wellesley College two years ago. Previous coverage from the Times on this issue has included the efforts of Washington University to recruit more economically-diverse students and the creation of a new annual prize awarded to top colleges that excel at enrolling and graduating low-income students.

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