Members of the Tufts community have been pushing the administration to work towards a more inclusive student body. In November, #TheThreePercent marched in part to show their support for a larger proportion of black students. Last year, students fought for admissions to accept undocumented students. Representation, however, is also lacking for students of lower socioeconomic status, a March Enigma survey found.From March 12 to March 26, 452 Tufts students took our economic diversity survey. While this represents less than 10% of the student body, the sample was large enough to keep the margin of error within±5%, meaning that if a different sample was taken, the percentages we gathered would fall within 5% of the percentages found in this sample. In almost all demographic categories, such as gender and school, the group of survey respondents showed no statistically significant differences with the general Tufts population.What did these statistics find? The economic distribution of Tufts does not match that of the country. 23% of students reported their parents’ income as below approximately the 50th percentile for all Americans, and 27% of the student body find themselves in approximately top 5% of the nation. These statistics match other reported data about Tufts; Tufts ranked 70th out of 99 “Top Colleges” in terms of economic diversity in an analysis done by The New York Times’s The Upshot, only 38% of the Class of 2019 received financial aid, and a mere 12% received Pell Grants in 2013-2014, a special type of federal grant for especially needy students. Other highly-ranked universities have higher percentages; for example, 30% of Columbia students received pell grants.While our data confirms some existing knowledge about the economic distribution of Tufts students, it also answers some questions for which statistics have never been gathered.
What is the parental income distribution and financial aid distribution at Tufts? How does this vary along demographic categories, like international v. domestic status or early v. regular decision? How do finances affect students’ lives at Tufts, from employment to extracurriculars? How is the social class of Tufts students and the issue of economic diversity perceived by the student body?
Each semester, the Tufts Trends group works to analyze unanswered questions about Tufts student body through data. Last semester, we answered questions about the social, political, and romantic makeup at Tufts. This semester, Tufts Trends researched the role of money and economic diversity on campus and student life.
What is the economic distribution of Tufts?
We chose to use $50k and $200k as markers to break down income level because they roughly correlate to the median household income and the top 5% threshold in 2014, the most recent year for which is data is available, according to the Income and Poverty in the United States report provided by the US Census Bureau. While the actual median household income level is $53,657 and the actual top 5% is $206,568, we felt that it was fair to roughly correspond these markers with the categories of our survey. The data shows that the Tufts income distribution skews wealthier than that of the nation.
In this graph, we can see the likeliness of receiving financial aid decrease as family income level increases. An almost continuous downward slope confirms the idea of families with lower income level being more likely to receive financial aid, but there is a small percentage of students with a family income of $500K to over $1M who receive some form of financial aid.
How can income vary between groups?
Domestic V. International Students
According to our survey, almost half of domestic students receive financial aid, in comparison with around 30 percent of international students. Tufts relies on certain grant and loan programs offered by the Federal Government that only apply to domestic students, and therefore, the budget for financial aid for international students is more limited. The potentially higher cost of attending Tufts could place a large burden on international students, especially because family income level of international students is lower than that of domestic students. 32% of international students reported parental income levels at $50k or below, compared with only 14% of domestic. Families of internal students were also less likely to make above $200,000. These differences could, however, reflect the different levels of consumption in different countries and also the fact that international students may not know their parents’ income in US dollars; indeed, international students were almost 10% less likely to know their parents’ income.Early Decision v. Regular Decision
Early decision is sometimes thought of as a pathway only open for wealthy students because admissions departments can count on those students attending, so they may be less inclined to offer generous financial aid packages that will woo students away from other schools. It does seem to be true at Tufts; those who apply early decision are 16% less likely to receive financial aid than those who apply via regular decision. However, this may simply be because those who apply early decision are less needy, not having to rely on multiple offers to pick the best financial aid package. Students who applied early were 10% more likely to make $200k than those who applied regular. However, similar percentages of both applicant pools were below median income. This is not to say that all early decision admits are wealthy nor that none receive financial aid;
however, because increasing numbers of applicants are applying to Tufts through early decision, the economic disparities between the two applicant pools are an important feature in understanding the Tufts income distribution.
Arts&Sciences v. Engineering
How does your financial status impact what you study? While there wasn’t enough data to separate by major, there was enough to break it down by school. We found that a higher percentage of students in the school of engineering received financial aid.
One explanation of this is that Tufts engineers could need more financial aid; 20% of families with respondents in the School of Engineering make above $200k while 28% of those in the school of arts & sciences made above this level.
Similarly, 23% of respondents in the school of engineering made reported parental incomes below $50,000 compared to only 11% of those in arts & sciences. According to the National Labor Stats, entry level engineers salaries are at $54,000-$60,000 per year while their liberal arts counterparts are at $41,600—with majors like English and foreign languages much lower, around $33,000. While we can’t give a definite answer to explain these numbers, perhaps students on financial aid from less wealthy backgrounds feel the pressure to earn a higher salary, maybe to pay back student loans, and are more likely to choose a career that essentially guarantees high pay.
How does your economic status effect your life at Tufts?
Having a Job (or Not)
Our survey showed that a student’s employment status was strongly associated with their parents’ income. Students that come from households making less than $200K are significantly more likely to have a job than students from wealthier households (p < 0.01). 86% of students that come from households making less than $200K have at least one paid job while they are in school. Conversely, only 49% of students from households making more than $200K have a paid job.While only slightly statistically significant, we did find that students who do not qualify for financial aid are more likely to have a single off campus job (14.5%) than students who do qualify for financial aid (8.9%), (p < 0.1). This could suggest that students who do not qualify for financial aid are forced to look for work off-campus.Which Clubs You Join
Our survey suggests the existence of a socioeconomic disparity between on-campus groups. As a whole, 36.8% of respondents indicated that their parents make $100K or less each year. At the extremes, cultural organizations contain a significantly higher proportion of students from these households (49.4%) (p < 0.1), while Greek Life organizations contain a significantly lower proportion of students from these households (19.7%) (p < 0.01).
The median income for students who participate in Greek Life is $203K, which is right around the cutoff for the top 5% in American for annual household income. Other clubs that tended to draw wealthier students were varsity sports and religious groups.
Besides cultural organizations, the two groups with the lowest median incomes were student government and performance groups. It is clear from this data that involvement in certain groups on campus is associated with coming from a family that makes more money. Perhaps the costs associated with being a part of a sports team or a fraternity/sorority make students from less wealthy families hesitant to join.
Perceptions of Economic Diversity at Tufts
Perception of your class v. perception of average class at TuftsThe way people describe their socioeconomic class is strongly associated with their parents’ annual income. That is, people whose parents made more money were more likely to identify themselves as upper middle class or upper class. Interestingly, people’s perception of the average socioeconomic class of the average Tufts student was inverse to how they perceived their own class. We call this the “canada goose jacket” effect.
If you were asked to guess how many Canada Goose Jackets you saw on a cold day in January, a student who thinks of themselves as Lower/Lower-Middle Class might say they saw a higher number than a student who is self-described Upper/Upper-Middle Class.
That is, people who think they are lower-class seem to be more conscious of the wealth around them, while people who think of themselves as upper-class seem to be slightly more aware of the existence of working class people.
Opinions on the Issue of Economic Diversity
We asked two subjective questions to gauge campus attitudes towards economic diversity and how those attitudes vary among the student body.
First, we asked whether students thought that economic diversity at Tufts is an issue that is important to them. Almost three-quarters of Tufts students – the vast majority – either somewhat or strongly agreed. There were notable differences, however, between students receiving financial aid and students not receiving financial aid. Eighty-four percent of financial aid recipients at least somewhat agreed, but only 64% of non-recipients shared the same opinion. Nearly half (48%) of financial aid recipients strongly agreed that economic diversity was an important issue to them as opposed to less than a quarter (22%) of non-recipients who strongly agreed.
Second, we asked whether economic diversity is discussed on Tufts campus. Among all respondents, only 20% somewhat or strongly agreed, while 69% somewhat or strongly disagreed. The vast majority of Tufts students, more than two in three, don’t think economic diversity is discussed on campus. Students receiving financial aid were more likely to at least somewhat disagree with the statement than non-recipients (76% to 62%), and much more likely to strongly disagree (36% to 11%). On the flipside, 25% of non-recipients, as opposed to 15% of recipients, believed that economic diversity is discussed on campus.
Economic diversity could mean different things to different people, but our survey questions still have value in judging campus attitudes towards economic issues.
A large majority of students care about economic diversity on campus but feel that it isn’t being discussed, which implies dissatisfaction with how campus culture handles economic diversity. This trend is especially pronounced among financial aid recipients.There are so many more relationships and findings to mine from this data. Additionally, we acknowledge that this survey was imperfect and could have tackled the issue of economic diversity more broadly. Commenters noted that more questions could be added that hit on other aspects of finances at Tufts, such as textbooks and summer jobs, and that got at a broader notion of socioeconomic background, such as asking about parental education levels. We hope we could add to the economic diversity conversation on campus, but please let us know any way we can contribute to a richer discussion.Research, graphics, and writing by Evie Bellew, Nathan Foster, Greta Jochem, Thomas Morin, Catherine Perloff, and Astrid Weng