It’s no secret that students and families worry about rising tuition costs. But tuition increases can also pose a threat to campus diversity, according to a new study.
Two researchers—Drew Allen, Executive Director of the Initiative for Data Exploration and Analytics for Higher Ed at Princeton University, and Gregory C. Wolniak, Director of the Center for Research on Higher Education Outcomes at New York University—examined the outcomes of changes in tuition at 600 public four-year colleges and 1,000 public two-year colleges over a 14-year period.
They found that as tuition rates go up, campus diversity goes down.
More specifically, “for every $1,000 increase in tuition at four-year nonselective public universities, diversity among full-time students decreased by 4.5%,” Allen and Wolniak write. And at public two-year colleges, every $1,000 increase in tuition led to a 1.4% drop in diversity.
Though the researchers did not see substantial changes in diversity at four-year institutions as a whole, the decrease in diversity at nonselective public universities matters. That’s because these institutions admit a wide range of students, and it’s reasonable to assume that the diverse student population shut out of these schools will not seek a college education elsewhere, according to the researchers.
Allen and Wolniak also found that tuition hikes at nearby institutions—including private colleges—are associated with an increase in student diversity at public four-year colleges within a 100-mile radius.
This changing landscape of diversity on campuses affects everyone—not just those who change their minds about enrolling in certain colleges or universities. Diversity on campus delivers numerous benefits to students and faculty by bringing in new perspectives and creating a richer learning environment. And students—regardless of their personal backgrounds—largely support campus diversity.
Some institutions, like the University of Maine (UMaine), are employing unique strategies to recruit more diverse students. UMaine recently enacted the Flagship Match policy, which allows students from certain Northeastern states to pay the same tuition and fees that they would pay at their home state’s flagship institution.
For some students, that means the cost of attendance is cut in half. In 2016, UMaine admitted 17% more students than the year before—including 53% more black students and 49% more Hispanic students (Allen/Wolniak, The Conversation, 4/26).