Higher Tuition, Less Diversity

Tuition hikes lead to less diversity among freshman.

HOW DOES A HIKE in tuition affect diversity at educational institutions in the United States? If it happens at a nonselective public school, a US$1,000 increase leads to a 4.5 percent drop in campus diversity among full-time freshmen, write co-authors Drew Allen, executive director of the Initiative for Data Exploration and Analytics (IDEAS) for Higher Education at Princeton University in New Jersey; and Gregory Wolniak, clinical professor of higher education at New York University.

Previous research had shown that tuition increases push enrollments down, but Allen and Wolniak wanted to examine the relationship between tuition prices and racial/ethnic diversity. They looked at all public two- and four-year colleges and universities in the United States between 1998 and 2012, using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

Their research showed that “jumps in public college tuition drive down the racial and ethnic diversity of the student body, and this effect is particularly strong at the nonselective public colleges and universities that serve as the gateway to higher education for many families,” says Allen. The authors discovered that, when diversity dropped after tuition rose, it didn’t mean one racial or ethnic group was becoming more or less represented on campus. Instead, it meant that the campus was becoming more homogeneous, with students becoming less likely to encounter peers with backgrounds different from their own.

Allen and Wolniak also found that, at public institutions, the effects of tuition hikes were more pronounced among full-time freshmen as compared to the overall full-time campus population. They found that the effects were weaker at more selective public institutions that offer more generous aid packages.

These findings should be of interest, says Allen, because they draw attention “to specific factors that might contribute to the racial/ethnic diversity of college at a time when affirmative action and equity in admissions are at the forefront of postsecondary policy discussions.”

“Exploring the Effects of Tuition Increases on Racial/Ethnic Diversity at Public Colleges and Universities” was published online March 23, 2018, in Research in Higher Education.