Our place in history ...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Statements prepared for those interested in equal opportunity access to higher education:

Updated statement—(for Phatiwe and other departed friends)

My blood relatives were born and raised in Mexico, save my maternal grandmother—whose plans to study were interrupted by the Spanish Civil War. She, a Basque republican, faced fascism and lost. I read Michel del Castillo, seeking greater understanding of her experience. And Hemingway. Papa Ernest wrote, “We have come out of the time when obedience, the acceptance of discipline, intelligent courage, and resolution were most important, into that more difficult time when it is a man's duty to understand his world rather than simply fight for it.”

It is this sentiment that motivates me to seek the Presidency of the Dartmouth Association of Latino/Hispanic Alumni (DALA). I see this position as one that requires not only a commitment to the wellbeing of the College, as well as the students, alumni, faculty, staff, trustees, and others that comprise it, but also a commitment to the greater Latino/Hispanic community—with special attention to the fact that half of the members of this indispensable nationwide population are under 25 years of age.

In 1994, when I left home for Dartmouth, roughly 75,000 Latino/Hispanics graduated from California high schools. Only 3.5% enrolled in the University of California system. The vast remainder were not keeping me company in the Ivy League or overwhelmingly populating colleges and universities in the East, South, Midwest, or Southwest. Educational attainment among Latino/Hispanics then (both in California and throughout the USA) was significantly lower than that of other racial/ethnic groups.

Today’s data is even more suffocating. (We don’t even see high school graduation).

For instance, the majority of the 73.5% of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) of Latino/Hispanic descent are expected to drop out. 61% of LAUSD’s Latino/Hispanic students presently in ninth grade will leave high school before graduation. And there is no public, private, or nonprofit sector effort currently underway expected to reverse this trend for this or future generations. In fact, across the USA, Latinas (girls) are the most likely high school dropouts, and Latinos (boys) are more likely to receive GEDs in prison than degrees from institutions of higher education.

To put it another way: Right now, nationwide, Latino/Hispanic students walking into preschools, kindergartens, and first grade classrooms are seven times more likely than their “white” peers to come from households headed by high school dropouts. And to make matters worse, high school graduation rates are not the end all, be all, of the education attainment challenge. Only 16% of those Latino/Hispanics who do manage to acquire high school diplomas earn bachelor’s degrees before/by the age of 29.

Latino/Hispanics are repeatedly disadvantaged by power-seeking figures looking for a scapegoat to pin the blame on for economic downturns, illegal drug trafficking, overwhelmed emergency rooms, public health crises, excessively high crime rates, overcrowded prisons, the length of unemployment lines, strained welfare roles, school violence, test scores that compare unfavorably to those of other nations, and so on, and so forth. The unrelenting demonizing of undocumented immigrants from Latin America has produced an inertia effect. The entire Latino/Hispanic community is, and has been historically impacted in an adverse way. The legions of citizens who want to join the Minutemen Project, for instance, seem to be growing faster than the number of trained authorities and human rights observers. Arguments over the US-Mexican border are producing a sociopolitical environment of racial polarization akin to one (I witnessed firsthand) that preceded, accompanied, and followed the Rodney King riots.

As Latino/Hispanic communities increase their visibility in every sector of US American life, it is clear that the state of the Latino/Hispanic population cannot be distinguished from the state of the nation itself. Indeed, within a generation this country’s overall wellbeing will depend on how well Latino/Hispanic communities fare. As of Census 2000, one in eight Americans self-identified as being Latino/Hispanic, and 40% of the Latino/Hispanic population self-identified as being foreign-born; Latino/Hispanics resided in centuries-old communities in the Southwest, traditional ethnic enclaves in big cities such as New York, Chicago, the District of Columbia, and Miami, as well as in “new” places like Alaska, Iowa, Missouri, Georgia, and Carolina North and South. For several years, Latino/Hispanics have constituted the USA’s largest racial/ethnic minority. What has, and continues to change is the demographic “face” of this nation’s future.

“People of color” currently comprise over one-third of this country’s total population, and by the year 2050, this figure will reach 50%. Women and “people of color” represent 70% of new entrants to the workforce predicted for this year. Companies owned by women and “people of color” are the fastest growing small-business segment, increasing by 150% from 1992-1997, and representing $495 billion in revenue during that time period. The collective buying power of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino/Hispanics, and Native Americans alone reached $1.3 trillion by 2001. Notwithstanding, “communities of color” tend to have mixed social and economic outcomes when compared to “whites.”

Latino/Hispanics are the most obvious canaries, social/health service centers and educational institutions, ballot boxes and the seats of power in the three branches of government, as well as multinational corporations and the global marketplace the mines.

One-third of Latino/Hispanic children live below the poverty line, despite the fact that Latino/Hispanic children tend to live in two-parent, working families. One in every nine US workers is Latino/Hispanic, (and Latino/Hispanics contribute to economic growth through high rates of productivity and small business development) but Latino/Hispanics represent the working population least likely to possess health, and other forms of insurance designed to buttress stability and protect livelihood.

These statistics reflect the fundamental and irreversible structural shifts that have demarcated the employment sector in recent years. Latino/Hispanics occupy the margin because the academic skills demanded by entry-level professional sector jobs are higher than the thresholds that must generally be crossed to access postsecondary education. Culturally competent education, (that identifies and meets real world needs, involves metrically effective teaching and learning, and relies on community involvement and strategic planning) as well as affordable training opportunities for those wishing to gain new skills, offer the only truly viable route for success in an economy largely driven by information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. Frequent displacement, (geographic relocation) poverty, and language barriers prevent Latino/Hispanic access to nearly all forms of education and job training.

And then there’s discrimination—the bigotry and bias of individuals, as well as the systemic, pervasive and habitual policies that institutionalize the racism and xenophobia that damn Latino/Hispanics in housing, lending, (redlining) employment, and education.

Having light skin, speaking fluent English, and being a US citizen did not protect me from having vile insults like “wetback,” “beaner,” and “taco-shitting border-nigger” launched at me (and my friends) by peers. More pernicious still, participating in accelerated academics, all manner of extracurricular activities, or even varsity athletics did not seem to protect any Latino/Hispanic student from the diminished expectations of school and community decision-makers. For instance, one day, I was plucked from one of a handful of Advanced Placement courses offered at my high school, and accommodated in the audience of the campus’ largest auditorium. All “students of color” with an above 3.00 GPA were provided copies of our transcripts, and placed before representatives facilitating the Cal State pre-admission process. I questioned whether the exclusion of representatives from the UC system, and private colleges/universities encouraged student success or limited it. My guidance counselor, responded, “You’re not as smart as you think you are, and when you apply to colleges, they’ll be able to tell that you’re just a smart ass and nothing more.”

My decision to attend Dartmouth College was in large part motivated by my wish to help improve the conditions in which juxtaposed diverse peoples lived, worked, and learned. Yet my last days of public school education, and my privileged years in the Ivy League, were marked by the ever increasing tension that ushered in Propositions 187, 209, and 227 in California, and caused them to be replicated across state lines (throughout the USA) during both the decade closing the 20th Century and the one opening the 21st.

After graduation from the College, I joined Teach for America (TFA). I thought that by becoming a public school teacher, I would be able to sow the seeds of distinguished dreams in the hearts of kids from communities like the one I grew up in. I was to teach English reading and writing skills to a group of solely Spanish speaking children, using a form of pedagogy dubbed “immersion.” I didn’t let the injustices I perceived distract me from my classroom duties. The school district sent representatives to remove the Spanish literacy posters from the walls of my classroom, as well as the Spanish-language books from my classroom library shelves (without replacing them with comparable English-language materials). I adopted the attitude that because I was an “urban public school teacher,” I was supposed to face these situations. I taught using butcher paper and crayons, my own childhood books, and whatever school supplies I was able to purchase with my modest monthly paycheck.

Speaking no English whatsoever, two last minute additions to my classroom, (one girl from Nicaragua, and one from El Salvador) drew pictures on their hands with multicolor pens, unless showered with bilingual instruction (a form of pedagogy declared illegal in California by a statewide initiative in 1998). School administrators would not classify them “special needs,” a status affording structured individual support; the district urged me to retain them—“unofficial” policy was the expectation that teachers would ask the parents of students not able to complete standardized tests in English to volunteer their children for retention. Credentialed, graduate degreed professionals, many with doctorates, found forced grade-level repetition the solution to language acquisition challenges, not academic resources; social integration. I refused. At the end of the year, I left the district, and became a nonprofit sector youth/education policy reform advocate.

TFA recently asked 2,000 of its active corps members if they feel that the general public understands the causes of the socioeconomic and ethnic/racial educational achievement gaps (and if they think people have a grasp of the right solutions)—these teachers are recent college graduates from top colleges and universities and all academic majors who have committed two years to educating students in the USA’s lowest-income urban and rural communities. 98% of these educators who directly witness the greatest challenges students face in under-resourced schools, answered, “no.” It turns out they were right. According to the most recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup survey, most Americans blame a lack of parental involvement, problems in students’ home life/upbringing, as well as lack of scholarly interest/motivation for the achievement gap—more than 75% of those polled said they believe that “students of color” have the same academic opportunities as “whites.”

In contrast, TFA corps members, who confront socioeconomic poverty every school day, and interact almost exclusively with “students of color” believe the key to closing the achievement gap is the training and employment of better teachers, improvement in the quality of leaders who make decisions in schools and school districts, and the expectation (championed by teachers, principals and parents) that students can meet challenging academic standards. Working in classrooms that some consider hopeless, these teachers have repeatedly proven that even children who fell behind in school initially can succeed.

TFA corps members and alumni consistently hold that (despite seemingly distressing odds) educational environments where students growing up in low-income areas achieve academically can be developed on a school-wide, district-wide, even nationwide basis if persons in positions of influence are willing to prioritize the elimination of barriers that prevent access to educational opportunity.

Research identifies many different barriers that prevent access, some of which include:

Information & encouragement—

Low-income students often do not receive sufficient information and encouragement to strive for an education beyond high school. Socioeconomic status strongly affects access to reliable information about college. In addition, a 1997 study suggested four factors would improve college participation rates: improving school conditions, having more interested teachers and actively involved counselors, instilling college possibilities earlier, and emphasizing cultural awareness. Also, many families misperceive the cost of postsecondary education, and many students are unsure about application requirements and financial aid options.

Academic preparation—

It goes without saying that a rigorous academic high school program improves a student’s chances to succeed in postsecondary education. Since participation in college-preparatory curriculums varies by race/ethnicity and income, it should be no surprise that college attendance rates vary by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic characteristics.

Financial aid—

The cost of college has increased sharply, and low-income students have been hit hardest. In the past decade, average public four-year college tuition fees rose 51 percent, after adjusting for inflation. By the year 2000, the average debt load of a four-year public college graduate was approximately $19,300 (more than double levels seen a decade earlier). Consequently, even before the current Congress moved to gut them, the buying power of Pell Grants and Stafford Loans dropped sharply (thus reducing college access for lower-income students). Grant programs in general have failed to keep pace with increasing college costs. In the 2003-2004 school year, when the average Pell Grant failed to even reach $2,500, other sources of financial aid, (informed by financial policies and practices on the federal, state and private institutional entities) failed to restructure in order to maximize access and success for all those endeavoring a college education.


On February 29, 2004, before the 86th Annual Meeting of the American Council on Education, Harvard University’s current President offered the following remarks:

Our national economy has been transformed in recent years… The gap in income for going to college has risen from 31 percent in 1979 to 66 percent in 1997. Accompanying this change has been substantial increase in inequality. In 1979, the top one percent of the population earned less than half the share received by the bottom 40 percent. The most recent data suggest that today the top one percent earn more than the bottom 40 percent. Or, to put the point differently, in the same period when the median family income was going up 18 percent, the top one percent of all families saw a 200 percent increase in their income.

Sharp increases in inequality and their relation to education are a serious concern. They are even more troubling when one examines changes in intergenerational mobility… Evidence suggests that intergenerational mobility in America is no longer increasing and may well be decreasing. One recent study found that a child born in the bottom 10 percent of families by income has only one chance in three of getting out of the bottom 20 percent… More inequality, and more persistence of inequality, mean just this: The gap between the children of different economic backgrounds has sharply increased in this country over the last generation.

Increasing disparity based on parental position has never been anyone’s definition of the American dream.

Going back to the beginning of the Republic, and Jefferson’s view that virtue and talent were sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, the contribution of education—and especially higher education—to equality of opportunity has been a central concern… We in higher education and the nation have done much since the Second World War to promote equality of opportunity. We made genuine progress through the happy accident of the GI Bill. By 1947 one out of every two students in higher education was financed by the Bill, and the proportion of young people going to college had almost doubled.

Many feared that the influx of students from a broad cross-section of America would strain capacity and dilute quality, but in fact the opposite proved true… Furthermore, the rising number of educated people ushered in a period of growth and prosperity unmatched in our history.

The success of the GI Bill, and the success of the students it brought into our nation's colleges and universities, had far-reaching impact. Harvard and many other universities substantially increased the resources for financial aid, and a number of leading institutions adopted need-based financial aid policies. State and local governments invested on an unprecedented scale in constructing campuses that made college pervasively available. And with the passage of the Higher Education Act, the federal government made a major commitment to assure, in the words of President Johnson, that “a high school senior anywhere in this great land of ours can apply to any college or any university in any of the 50 States and not be turned away because his family is poor.”

The civil rights movement added yet another dimension to equality of opportunity in higher education… And every graduating class in America looks very different today from the way it did decades ago.

This evolution in the composition of our student bodies has not happened by accident, by coincidence, or by the invisible hand. It is the result of conscious choice in the public and private sectors, by people determined to bring us to this point. It reflects a choice that institutions make with an awareness of the profound importance of fairness to all—and with the recognition that what is fair is also effective… We have a long way to go to make sure that we deliver, in the experience and academic success of minority students on our campuses, on the promise we make at the door.

We have a long way to go to close the gap in academic achievement and standardized test scores separating black and Hispanic students from their white and Asian-American counterparts. And we have a long way to go in bringing to bear on the problems plaguing our public schools sufficient imagination, insight, and relentlessness to begin to make a dent… Given the changes in the United States over the last generation in inequality and its current magnitude, it behooves us to ask whether we in higher education are doing enough. I believe that we are not.

In the United States today, a student from the top income quartile is more than six times as likely as a student from the bottom quartile to graduate with a B.A. within five years of leaving high school. And in the most selective colleges and universities, only three percent of students come from the bottom income quartile and only 10 percent come from the bottom half of the income scale. Let me underscore what I just said.

Children whose families are in the lower half of the American income distribution are underrepresented by 80 percent.

These differences cannot be fully accounted for by native ability or academic preparation. Indeed, a student from the highest income quartile and the lowest aptitude quartile is as likely to be enrolled in college as a student from the lowest income quartile and the highest aptitude quartile.

Why do these gaps in attendance and graduation persist?

In part, because some students simply cannot afford to go to college. At all but the most well-endowed institutions, many students face high tuition and inadequate financial aid.

In part, because many students never consider applying to certain colleges or universities because they believe them to be out of reach. This past fall we held focus groups at Harvard with students with family incomes under $50,000. We learned that these students often work to make up the parental contribution because they do not want to subject their parents to additional financial stress.

There are also issues that are specific to highly selective institutions. The evidence is overwhelming that binding early decision programs of the kind that some colleges and universities use penalize students in need of financial aid by precluding them from comparing offers in choosing a college.

Students fortunate enough to be able to be channeled toward prep courses for the SATs surely show up more favorably at any given level of ability than other students. I would venture a guess that the classrooms of Stanley Kaplan and the Princeton Review are among the least diverse in America.
Many very talented students from low and middle-income families cannot compete with their more affluent peers in the apparent level of cultural or athletic extra-curricular pursuits reflected in their college applications.

Whatever the reasons, the degree of inequality in access to higher education is a problem that must be addressed:

It is more urgent than ever before because the economic impact of going to college in general, and going to a more selective college in particular, has never been greater, and some research suggests that this impact may be greatest for the poorest students.

It is more urgent than ever before because one in five American children now has a foreign-born parent, and the children of immigrants are twice as likely to be poor.

It is more urgent than ever before because our nation's competitiveness depends ever more on the quality of those who graduate from our nation's universities and colleges. And only by assuring access to everyone can we maximize the quality of our nation's college graduates.

And it is more urgent than ever before because excellence in education depends on diversity. If our college graduates are to learn all they can from each other, we must assure that they come from a truly wide range of backgrounds…

In this spirit, we are announcing at Harvard a new initiative to encourage talented students from families of low and moderate income to attend Harvard College. The program has four major components:

1) Financial aid: Beginning next year, parents in families with incomes of less than $40,000 will no longer be expected to contribute to the cost of attending Harvard for their children. In addition, Harvard will reduce the contributions expected of families with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000;

2) Recruiting: The College Admissions Office has intensified its efforts to reach out to talented students across the nation who might not think of Harvard as an option and make sure that they understand Harvard's long-standing commitment to enrolling students from a wide range of backgrounds and regardless of financial circumstances;

3) Admissions: Harvard is reemphasizing, in the context of its highly personalized process of admissions, the policy of taking note of applicants who have achieved a great deal despite limited resources at home or in their local schools and communities;

4) Pipeline: Harvard recently announced the establishment of the Crimson Summer Academy, an intensive summer program for academically talented high school students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds in the greater Boston area. Each student will participate for three successive summers, beginning after ninth grade, receiving encouragement and preparation to attend a challenging four-year college or university.

We want to send the strongest possible message that Harvard is open to talented students from all economic backgrounds. Too often, outstanding students from families of modest means do not believe that college is an option for them -- much less an Ivy League university. Our doors have long been open to talented students regardless of financial need, but many students simply do not know or believe this. We are determined to change both the perception and the reality.

We have also taken steps at the graduate level to assure that students who wish to pursue careers in public service are not deterred because of finances. Last year we established a $14 million Presidential Scholars program to fund top masters and doctoral students choosing careers in fields such as education, public health, and government service.

Harvard is fortunate to have the resources to undertake these programs. But as one institution, we are a very small piece of the puzzle… The trends I have described today are not unrelated to the fact that we have allowed the purchasing power of the Pell Grant to decline for the last thirty years by 11 percent in real terms, relative to overall price increases at private institutions of 150 percent; that we have moved from grants to loans as the primary vehicle for federal financial aid; and that state legislatures have slashed operating support for universities, sending tuitions higher, while diverting scarce grant resources to merit aid.

It is not the work of one bill, or one administration, to restore higher education to its full force as an engine of equal opportunity… But we need to understand, as we did after World War II, that education is not a discretionary expense; it is a necessary investment in the future of the next generation and, thus, in the future of the nation. We need to support programs that work with children from a very early age to make sure that they set their sights high and have the preparation to succeed in college and meet challenging goals… We need to recognize that the most serious domestic problem in the United States today is the widening gap between the children of the rich and the children of the poor, and education is the most powerful weapon we have to address that problem. Let us make sure that the American dream is a possible dream for every child in the nation.


Attending the College afforded me tremendous opportunities from the onset: Before graduation from Dartmouth in 1998, I helped launch and was selected to serve as the first Multicultural Project Coordinator for the Tucker Foundation for Community Service; I was chosen by the Dean of the College to sit on the Advisory Board for the Bildner Endowment, as well as to representative undergraduates on the College’s Student Life, Budget Priorities Advisory, and Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Policy committees; I even had opportunity to know life as a writer/actor in the Nuestras Voces Latino playgroup, a writer/editor for Snapshots of Color arts-prose-poetry journal, a member of the men’s first-year lightweight crew team, a dancer in one of the first incarnations of the Sheba hip-hop ensemble, a founding member and rhythm guitarist in Ritual, (the College’s only rock en español band) a contributor of regular editorials in half-a-dozen student-driven publications, and a senior employee in the work-study world of Dartmouth Dining Services.

Most importantly, while La Alianza Latina President, and subsequently as the elected vice-chair of the Student Assembly (SA) Membership and Internal Affairs Committee, as well as the appointed chair of on of the SA president’s executive committees, I worked tirelessly to bring permanency to Dartmouth’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies department, to establish Latino/Hispanic studies as a permanent option in the College’s curriculum, to hire a permanent advisor to improve rates of Latino/Hispanic retention and graduation, and to create a Latino/Hispanic & Latin American and Caribbean Studies Resource Center.

I inherited these causes from Latino/Hispanics who entered Hanover, NH before me. Others worked with me on them. Together with the efforts of those who matriculated after me they were all achieved. Now the truly difficult and important work begins:

Using alumni to cultivate the existing pipeline—

Instead of establishing and running a Big Green summer institute to rival Harvard’s Crimson Summer Academy, I suggest hiring a “network manager” (a bridge between Alumni Relations and Admissions) whose job it is to connect alumni with each of the top 1,000 public high schools in the USA (according to Newsweek). School #60 for instance, is populated by the children of farm workers in Oxnard, California, and is minutes away from where a Latino/Hispanic member of the Class of 1997 lives and works. In addition, there are private schools throughout urban areas recruiting talented students from diverse backgrounds, and retaining them (especially the ones from low-income households) with a wide array of scholarships, that Dartmouth infrequently connects with. Crossroads Academy, and the Pilgrim School are two such schools found here in Los Angeles.

Another network manager should serve under the direction of the Tucker Foundation as a bridge between Alumni Relations, Admissions, and this nation’s successful educational opportunity producing nonprofits. The Posse Foundation, Citizen Schools, the Rhode Island Children’s Crusade, and the SEED Foundation are but a few that come to mind. The New Teacher Project, New Leaders for New Schools, and Teach for America are the three Dartmouth cannot neglect developing an active, ongoing relationship with. The College would be well served by a program encouraging wide-scale alumni participation in the first two, and increased student interest in TFA. There is no better way to increase the number, and improve the caliber of students in the pipeline of applicants than to place multiple alumni directly into positions of influence in high schools throughout the USA.

It is unacceptable to have an anemic pipeline of applicants that guarantees that Latino/Hispanics will perpetually be underrepresented in colleges and universities throughout the USA. High school graduates prepared for the challenges of a liberal arts education will thrive in an economy driven by information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. We need to reverse dropout trends—we must confront the crisis head on. And we need to reach the most talented Latino/Hispanic high school graduates, and convince them to apply, matriculate, and complete their degrees at Dartmouth.

How the competition lowers attendance costs—

The price tag on a Dartmouth diploma is prohibiting. Even with student loans and scholarships the burden students and families must bear is exorbitant. State and private colleges/universities are sitting on top of huge endowments. Instead of government policies that encourage this practice of wealth amassing, laws governing these 501c3s should reward them for putting this capital to use. If it is not possible for all students with financial need to be educated for free by the College, it should at least be possible to tailor tuition rates to reflect ability to pay (without incurring unreasonable debt).

Middle class families are fraught with the same alienation that has historically plagued the socioeconomic poor. The median income for a family of four in the USA is approximately $62,000, yet middle class families with kids admitted to Dartmouth are expected to come up with $200,000 per child (the cost of four years of classes and housing at the College). And if tuition rates soared from less than $15,000 in 1990, to over $30,000 ten years later, there is no reason to assume that they won’t double again. Loans presently comprise around 70 percent of financial aid packages, making Dartmouth an increasingly sour deal for middle class families, who are saddled with debt once students graduate. (Since I still find myself paying college loans taken out under my mom’s and my name, I am no exception to this rule—my household’s estimated income during my years at the College was higher than before or after, but so was the credit card debt my parents were sitting on by the time I received an acceptance letter).

Similar to its rival in Cambridge, MA, it is likely that half of Dartmouth College’s undergraduate population in 2004 would have qualified for financial need grants of around $24,000 each year had they gone to Harvard (I believe approximately two-thirds of students at both school received some form of financial aid then). But unlike its rival, Dartmouth’s total annual scholarship budget for undergraduates fell fall short of the nearly $80 million Harvard College set aside to benefit more than 1000 households.

But Harvard isn’t the only school Dartmouth must be concerned with. Eight years ago, Princeton embarked on an ambitious project that altered dramatically the makeup of its student body. First came small changes, such as striking home equity from the family-assets equation; then, the university replaced loans with grants that need not be repaid. Princeton made these changes to ensure that all admitted students could attend, and would permit graduates who wanted to enter public service or attend graduate school to do so without worrying about undergraduate debt.

The changes have attracted more “students of color” and students from modest socioeconomic backgrounds. Compared with Princeton’s Class of 2001, the class that will graduate this year from Princeton has 152 more students receiving financial aid and 50% more students from families earning less than the median family income (which Princeton estimates at approximately $47,900). The proportion receiving grants rose from 38 to 51 percent—a Princeton record and the highest in the Ivy League. When loans disappeared from its financial aid packages, Princeton spent years as the only nonmilitary institution to go loan-free (until Harvard announced plans to do the same).

Said another way, once Princeton phased out loans and raised its financial aid budget 85 percent to $52 million, the impact rippled throughout the upper echelons of higher education, helping reshape financial aid policies in the Ivy League. Harvard moved to match Princeton’s aid packages and raised its scholarship budget by 50 percent between 1998 and 2003. Harvard increased its scholarships by more than $4,500 per student (partly because of tuition increases), and half of all students received some type of aid. As of 2004, Harvard lowered “self help” expectations to $3,250, (a combination of a campus job and student loans) Princeton required $2,350 from a campus job, Yale reduced self help to $3,900, M.I.T. knocked $2,000 off its self help standard, reducing it to $5,600, Stanford self help lowered to $5,250, and middle-income families saw their home-equity value capped, Brown eliminated their job requirements all together.

Less than 1 percent of students in the USA go to elite high-cost institutions like Dartmouth College. Increasing racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity will not completely erase the lingering taint of elitism. Even if Dartmouth were to offer free tuition to all middle class and low-income students, and a cadre of similarly ranked schools followed suit, it is debatable whether or not such a move would even make a dent in terms of college affordability nationwide.

When Princeton adopted its no-loan policy, David Longanecker, an assistant secretary for postsecondary education in the Clinton administration said, “As a statement, it was an interesting one and a benevolent act. But in terms of higher education in the country, it’s meaningless.” Many so-called higher education finance experts argued that Princeton only intensified competition among rich, elite schools without making aid available for more students. Arguing further that among the elites, the zero-sum nature of competition means that Princeton’s gains might be likely to be felt elsewhere as losses.

Michael McPherson, president of Macalester College and coauthor of The Student Aid Game, puts it this way, “The effect is to increase the gap between the hyper-elite institutions and the institutions that are one step down. It increases the tendency to concentrate the most elite students in just a handful of places. At institutions that think of themselves as close competitors with Princeton but don’t have the resources, the pressure will be to do that selectively—they will in effect do merit scholarships to try to match awards for those students who they think will get into Princeton.”

Such preferential packaging may be exacerbated by a troubled economy that has shrunk endowments and depleted financial aid programs across the fifty states. And as tuition increases hit double-digit percentages on a mass scale, indebtedness will become an even greater concern at colleges and universities nationwide. While a plethora of higher education institutions would like to become more affordable, many have struggled just to maintain aid awards as tuitions rise and more families face decreased earnings. It goes without saying that poor economic conditions are responsible for making Princeton’s policies more popular (and more costly) than that school’s trustees originally envisioned.

In the world of financial aid, only a few dozen schools can afford to meet, even through loans, the full need of a class admitted without regard to financial circumstances. Dartmouth is part of a very exclusive group of only 20 schools in the entire country to maintain a commitment to need-blind admissions. Princeton’s $8.1 billion endowment is the fourth largest in the country, but on a per-student basis, no school is wealthier than Princeton. The no-loan policy and other adjustments, such as the elimination of home equity from the aid calculation, are helping more and more low and middle-income families afford a Princeton education. Depending on their circumstances and number of children, even families with incomes of $100,000 and higher can qualify for financial aid. And while a source of some controversy, one third of aid recipients fall into this category.

The advantages to including income categories this high are expressed by Bob Laird, former admission director for the University of California, Berkeley, “It reverses this trend, started in the Reagan years, of a public policy stance that says a college education is an individual benefit rather than a benefit to all of society, and therefore the individual should pay for it through loans. People who are making between $80,000 and $120,000 a year really have been priced out of the elite private institutions unless they are willing to go into debt enormously. There’s not much point in having a big effort at the very bottom end of the economic spectrum and affluent families who can afford it with no problem, and a real squeeze in the middle. It skews who ends up at that university.”

Princeton’s former President, Harold Shapiro championed financial aid package reform in the last years of his tenure. Of this aspect of his legacy he is noted as saying, “I think some resented the fact that we, having made this move, might force their hand in this area, which would not have been their preference.” Noting that Princeton had more qualified applicants than could be admitted, he advanced the notion that the school’s goal should be to create an institution that was truly open to students from all backgrounds. While Shapiro claimed the financial aid program redesign was not intended to grant the school a competitive advantage, Princeton did indeed gain a competitive edge.

Eight years ago, only 60 percent of students admitted with financial aid chose to attend Princeton. By 2003 that figure (the school’s yield rate for students on aid) climbed to 71%, and Princeton’s overall yield shot up from 65.6% to 74% (placing Princeton second only to Harvard’s 79% overall yield).

Additionally, Princeton’s Dean of the College, Nancy Malkiel, credited the system for boosting the school’s racial/ethnic diversity. In 2002, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education ranked Princeton third among leading universities, and first among the Ivies, for diversity, citing the university’s financial aid innovations for helping to increase African-American enrollment. Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton professor of economics and public affairs, studied financial aid policies and posited that enough research had been amassed to conclude that “students of color” were more averse to debt than “whites.”

Harvard’s financial aid director, Sally Donahue, credits Princeton with “leading the charge,” and adds that by adopting its own no-loan program, Harvard hopes to erase the development and perpetuation of an “upstairs-downstairs phenomenon” in which students obligated to work15-20 hours a week (or more) must forgo extracurricular activities, such as campus-wide publications and productions that require significant time commitments.

Whether Princeton’s no-loan financial aid program will be seen as the pioneer plan in a larger movement to end student debt remains up in the air. It also remains unclear whether or not ending student debt will, as many predict, motivate more students to pursue public-service careers and/or attend graduate school. The overall state of the economy must improve, financial aid directors across the country must take their wish lists off the shelf, and other influential institutions of higher education must enter the game and either fold or raise the stakes—proposing a strategy that produces outcomes capable of assuaging education access barriers and (re)directing the global marketplace.

Dartmouth College as an agent of change—

Dartmouth, the last of the “Ancient Eight” to co-educate, decided it would consider admitting women only if it could be achieved without massive construction or a drop in male enrollment. 25 years later, while the College’s 17.6% of tenured women faculty members constituted the highest percentage of female professors with tenure in the Ivy League, only 29.8% of the total number of tenured and untenured were women—in 1996, only one tenured or tenure-track professor in the physics department was a woman, for instance, and only three of the 24 faculty at the Thayer School of Engineering were female, and none of these women were full professors.

By the late 1960s each one of the Ivies admitted women on equal footing with men except for Dartmouth. The “good old boys” controlled the College on every level. Women were all but excluded from the student body, the administration, the Trustees and the faculty. The alumni body was (for obvious reasons) entirely male. But the social upheavals of the time made single-sex education look like a thing of the past. Students and faculty moved for the admission of women for years. Trustees were reluctant to conduct a formal study on coeducation despite the frequent externally introduced resolutions asking the Board to consider the benefits of admitting female applicants.

In early 1969, a study of coeducation conducted by Princeton University framed the discussion in the following terms: All colleges and universities needed to coeducate or risk fading as institutions of higher learning. The Princeton Report said the market for single sex education was evaporating, and all schools, even the Ivies, needed to admit women to remain competitive. The federal government began to put pressure on colleges and universities that did not admit women. Bills were introduced to Congress that threatened to withdraw federal support from institutions of higher education that refused applications from applicants of both genders.

Continuing to admit only men would lower the quality of the student body. Dartmouth was exhausting the pool of talented male applicants willing to attend a single sex school in the 60s and 70s, while women were both proving that they were more than qualified to match or outperform their male counterparts in elite liberal arts education, and swelling the ranks of Dartmouth’s peers. In October of 1967, the Undergraduate Council (the precursor of the modern day Student Assembly) announced that 200 women from Mt. Holyoke College would “experiment” with taking classes at the College for a term (or more). None of these women received a Dartmouth diploma. As the 1970 academic year began, a survey revealed that almost 60% of alumni favored coeducation. The survey contained an even more important statistic: 70% of alumni would not change the amount of their donations if the College were to admit women as fulltime students. Dartmouth President John Kemeny promised a decision would be reached and action plan enacted by early 1971. The Trustees were no longer able to delay arriving at this pivotal decision. After 202 years of solely male matriculates, coeducation began in earnest in 1972.

A generation ago, the College did not lead—it followed. Let us not let Dartmouth continue to trail behind in the effort to eliminate the access barriers to higher education.

The College cannot outspend the capital produced by Princeton’s $8 billion endowment. Harvard’s endowment is nearly $20 billion, Yale’s $11 billion, and the University of Pennsylvania sits atop $3.5 billion. Yet Dartmouth’s over $2 billion is nothing to sneeze at, especially if we begin to think of the College as a potential strategic partner in the effort to make college accessible to a wider array of high school students.

321 colleges and universities are sitting on endowments of $100 million or more. Clearly not all of these schools consider themselves Dartmouth’s rivals and would welcome the sort of collaboration that would make all involved parties more competitive. The College should propose the creation of a common investment fund for well-endowed private colleges and universities seeking the additional revenue necessary to afford all middle class and low-income undergraduates debt-free tuition. Concurrently, Dartmouth and its partners should lobby the federal government for expansion of the Higher Education Act, and for a commitment to peg Pell Grants and Stafford Loans to regular interest rate and cost of living increases. On the graduate level, Dartmouth and its partners should found a “think tank” dedicated explicitly to pragmatic approaches for access barrier reduction. This think tank will remain necessary until every public high school in the USA produces graduates that can thrive academically in liberal arts college environments, and are free to matriculate in their favorite of the schools they win admission to, without regard to cost.


Previous statement—(from 05/05/05)

Cinco de Mayo is a day that remembers the victory of poorly armed everyday townspeople over the Imperial French Army in the Battle of Puebla. Several of my peers and friends are wearing brown on this day, in the same way that a majority of Americans wear green on St. Patrick's Day. I join them in this action. Alcohol manufacturers may use these holidays as an excuse to promote greater sales, but most of us think of these days as ones in which we can be proud that the USA would not be the country that it is without the historic contributions of the Irish and the Mexican peoples.

In most American history classrooms, speaking of the Irish cannot occur without speaking of the Italians, the Polish, and the tired, poor, huddled, yearning to breathe free that passed through Ellis Island in the hey of mass European immigration. Likewise, it is not possible to speak of Mexicans without speaking of Puerto Ricans, Cubans, as well as the myriad other populations that constitute the
Latino/Hispanic census group and are indivisible from this country's history. This is an imperfect comparison, of course. Many Mexicans come from families that became part of this country when a 19th century war turned their lands into US territory, Puerto Ricans have all been US citizens since WWI, and so on, and so forth. But my point remains, the American story is one of readjustment and redefinition;
to paraphrase Cornel West, there is no American dream without the faith that history can be transcended by substantive democracy's realization.

My friend, and Dartmouth classmate, Juan Cisneros, died on 9/11. This event led another friend and Dartmouth classmate, Andrew Vera, to a military action in Iraq that he wanted no part of. One fact did not need to necessarily lead to the other, but we were told by the majority of our elected officials that it did. My purpose is not to reengage in an argument already overheated by the 2004 Presidential Election. My purpose is to illustrate that every issue no matter how black and white it may seem, involves people dressed in grey.

Every time I watch Lou Dobbs on CNN or Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, I get scared. I have nightmares in which the legions of citizens who want to join the Minutemen Project grows faster than the number of trained authorities and human rights observers and the border becomes a warzone. The larger and faster groups fueled by frustration grow the more likely violence and destruction will occur. I fear that I
will again see something akin to the mob mentality of the Rodney King riots I witnessed firsthand in high school. It won't matter who deals the first blow or delivers the first shot. People will die or survive life scarring atrocities. I am the son of immigrants. I lived in both the USA and Mexico because of US policies that seemed arbitrary to me as a child. My bias is, has been, and always will be with those who risk their lives to find better ones across the border. But I can
admit that undocumented immigration potentially poses a threat.

I would be a fool and a horrible person if I did not do everything in my power to help make impossible the occurrence of anything even remotely similar to 9/11. Beyond that there are undocumented immigrants (some who overstay legally issued Visas, some who cross the northern or southern border without permission) who commit crimes—some of them horrific. But closed borders and xenophobia have never allowed any people to flourish, not even the inhabitants of Sir Thomas Moore's Utopia. There has to be a better solution to regulating the inflow of human beings in the name of Homeland Security than militarizing the borders and/or further dehumanizing those who wish to cross them. I have begun to hear more about addressing what occurs on the employment side. I have begun to see more concern about employer exploitation of workers living under the threat of deportation, trying to provide for their families in a hostile socio-political environment. I am hopeful that the dialogue will come to embrace all stakeholders, instead of targeting those migrants who are uneducated,
economically poor, and essentially defenseless.

When I was in high school, my decision to attend Dartmouth College was in large part motivated by my wish to help improve the conditions in which juxtaposed diverse peoples lived, worked, and learned. Beyond the riots, my last days of public school education were marked by increasing tension focused upon Latino/Hispanic immigrants.
Proposition 187, which passed during my first year at the College, hurt me deeply. I felt personally attacked and targeted. My heartfelt desire was to surround myself with people from different backgrounds who all got along. It was during this search that I met Walter Rodriguez. He made me believe again that such a world was
possible. Thanks in part to his encouragement I entered campus political life. When I learned of Wally's death three years after graduation a hole in my heart opened beside the one opened by Juan's passing.

Statistically speaking, my graduation from Dartmouth converted me into more of a minority than I ever thought I'd be. The number of Latino/Hispanics that graduate from four year colleges and universities is laughable; the number graduating from Ivy League or similarly prestigious schools is so miniscule it's hardly even worth
mentioning. According to various sources of population research data, by belonging to the census group I belong to means that I am much more likely to be a high school drop out; a gang member; an uninsured worker suffering from AIDS/some other incurable disease; in the armed services; a functional illiterate; in prison; a casualty in a street or military conflict. I want to see the day where belonging to this or any other census group means little to nothing at all. I want to be part of an effort that can transform census categories into anachronistic anomalies instead of likely indicators of socio-politico-economic standing.

It is this sentiment that motivates me to seek the Presidency of the Dartmouth Association of Latino/Hispanic Alumni (DALA). I see this position as one that requires not only a commitment to the wellbeing of the College, as well as the students, alumni, faculty, staff, trustees, and others that comprise it, but also a commitment to the greater Latino/Hispanic community. All children, regardless of who
their parents are, should know of Dartmouth and institutions of higher education like it. All children, regardless of their parents' status, should feel as though they have a shot at applying to, attending, and graduating from Dartmouth or one of its elite competitors. As an applicant I sometimes felt "less than"; once accepted I felt equal; at some point as a student I began to feel less than again; after
graduation this feeling ebbed and flowed, depending on how much money/time/assistance others wished me to provide and how much I was able to.

At Dartmouth I worked tirelessly to bring permanency to the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Department, to establish Latino/Hispanic studies as a permanent part of the curriculum, to hire a permanent advisor to improve rates of Latino/Hispanic retention and graduation, and to create a Latino/Hispanic & Latin American and Caribbean Studies Resource Center. I inherited these causes from those before me. Others taught me how to work on them. Together with the efforts of many others they were all eventually achieved. Now the truly difficult and important work begins:

It is unacceptable to have an anemic pipeline of applicants that guarantees that Latino/Hispanics will perpetually be underrepresented in colleges and universities throughout the US. We need more high school graduates prepared for the challenges of higher education. High stakes testing and No Child Left Behind are not cutting it.
Groups like Teach For America that have made their reputation on delivering impressive results in troubled school districts must enter the political arena by contributing to the education-reform work produced by policy think-tanks. The price tag on a diploma has become prohibiting. Even with student loans and scholarships the burden students and families must bear is exorbitant. State and private
colleges/universities are sitting on top of huge endowments. Instead of government policies that encourage this practice, laws governing these 501c3s should reward them for putting this wealth to use. If it is not possible for all students with financial need to be educated for free, it should at least be possible to adjust tuition rates to reflect ability to pay (a system theoretically similar to the federal tax code). Affirmative action must be improved so as to take into account socioeconomic class, parental educational background, and other factors that are relevant to producing the most dynamic and diverse student bodies possible. In similar fashion, the issue of preferences for legacies (children and relatives of alumni) and athletic recruits must be addressed. We must at all costs continue to
use education as a tool to combat arbitrary disparities. I agree with Dartmouth alum/former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich: a world that ignores the distance between have and not, is a perilous one.

I share these thoughts with you because I ask your help in refining and improving them. I beg your assistance in bringing their best rendition into incarnated fruition. In other words, help me bring the best of what I have said here to life. And if there is anything I have said here that inspires an idea, a desire, an impulse to improve Dartmouth, this country we all call home, or this world we share, please communicate those thoughts with me; impart those passions. I know there is much more to be done than what I have already addressed. Students in high school need mentors to make it to higher education. Students in college need mentors to make it to graduation. Alumni need mentors to make it through the real world without hitting walls or finding themselves slowed by stumbles.

I m sure that I have not yet learned all that I need to in order to make this world a better place, but I am confident that with the guidance and advice you are able to offer I will soon find myself well on my way there. I am as anxious to hear from those of you who do not consider yourselves part of the communities I feel linked to, as I am to hear from those of you who feel enveloped by the same circles. I do not know what to do other than reach out. I see no better way to reach important goals. My friend and Dartmouth classmate, Ezekiel Webber is still who I think of when describing an embodiment of this philosophy. Zeke made it possible for fraternity members, observant Christians, and members of the GLBT community from all racial/ethnic backgrounds to stand together. A third hole in my heart was added a
little over one year ago. I often ask why I live and these men do not. I have no answer, but any success I have in this I dedicate to them.


  • your post is far too long to respond to in detail, but i will say that i appreciate the work that you've done here. as the father of bi-racial children and with an income apparently well-below the median, i was especially interested in your section on financial aid and developments at harvard and princeton.

    i note that you posted the article in january. would you consider a follow up to take into account recent goings on? also, any advice for applicants (and their parents) about applying to and evaluating the opportunities at elite universities like harvard, stanford, princeton, brown, yale, dartmouth, etc.?

    By Blogger gr8god, at 7:10 PM  

  • your post is far too long to respond to in detail, but i will say that i appreciate the work that you've done here. as the father of bi-racial children and with an income apparently well-below the median, i was especially interested in your section on financial aid and developments at harvard and princeton.

    i note that you posted the article in january. would you consider a follow up to take into account recent goings on? also, any advice for applicants (and their parents) about applying to and evaluating the opportunities at elite universities like harvard, stanford, princeton, brown, yale, dartmouth, etc.?

    By Blogger gr8god, at 7:11 PM  

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