The misplaced pride that the University takes in the diversity of its campus has begun to irk me. The University’s website gleefully proclaims, “Diversity is integral to Michigan’s academic excellence.” Cool. The problem is recent data contradicts Michigan’s self-proclaimed role as a model of diversity. The percentage of African-American students has dropped by five percent since 2007, and the number of Latino students has remained stagnant despite being a fast growing percentage of the American population. These percentages are well below the national average of 13 percent blacks and 16 percent Hispanics. In addition to these shortcomings, the University has further developed a sense of exclusivity in a much less visible manner: socioeconomic selectivity.
While racial diversity has been a topic of public controversy with the University’s involvement in landmark legal cases regarding affirmative action, financial diversity has been relatively overlooked. In 2004, more University freshmen came from families making $200,000 or more than from families in the whole lower half of the income distribution. This marked the crossing of a significant financial threshold at the University and was indicative of an emergent trend. Over the next four years, there was a 13-percent drop in the number of students coming from middle- to low-income families — those that make $40,000 to $100,000. Aside from the usual worrying of tuition increases, there’s an equally troubling concern about the potential effects on student and school achievement.
It can be argued that a university’s success is founded on its acceptance of the most academically competitive students while building a diverse student body. And yet, the data has continually shown that universities — including Michigan — have been unfairly admitting a disproportional number of well-to-do kids. In December of last year, The New York Times reported on the growing disparities between the rich and poor in colleges across the country. Seventy percent of students with high standardized-test scores who came from financially well-off families were accepted to college and graduated. Only 26 percent of low-income students with the same test scores attended and graduated college. Similar results have been found in multiple studies.
What’s more is that these reports have shown this is a rapidly growing trend. By limiting the pool from which the University draws its students from, we’re limiting the height of our potential. The student body is slowly becoming the best of the rich, rather than the best of the best. With the recent drops in low-income students, the University’s admissions office isn’t only failing to maintain a financially diverse student body; it’s failing to uphold a meritocracy at an institution based on the ideology of merit-based achievement.
My biggest concern is the effect of this on the culture on campus. A diverse student body cultivates open minds. The University itself suggests that a “diverse cohort of people and perspectives is key to catalyzing such excellence.” Bringing together a wide range of experiences exposes students to rationales of thought alternative to their own. Diversity breaks down previously prejudiced and overly simplistic understandings of different backgrounds. Expanding one’s perspective isn’t only important for a good education, it’s crucial to becoming an understanding and compassionate person. Yet, as the student body becomes increasingly homogenous, I fear that we’ll begin to lose this quality.
While I occasionally find myself annoyed with the indifference with which some of my fellow classmates will drop $100 in a night at the bar, sign $1,000 per month away on leases or pay thousands of dollars in fraternity and sorority dues, these are only trivialities. I’m truly worried that the University is trending towards a day where it will be so full of similarly-minded students that not only will we not be understanding of different people, but we won’t want to be.
Daniel Wang is an LSA junior.