Why Access Matters

9 October 2018
President Steven Poskanzer
President Steven Poskanzer

Because Carleton is a residential community, our students experience a large portion of their growth and development outside the classroom—in residence halls and sports venues, on the Bald Spot, over conversations at dinner, and through student organizations. And that experience is dramatically enhanced when we include in our community students from the broadest conceivable range of backgrounds.

We enroll students from around the country and the world, from across the socioeconomic spectrum, and from every race and ethnicity. We welcome students who come from deeply religious backgrounds and those who are not religious at all. We want students from every point on the political spectrum. We seek students who come from families with strong ties to Carleton and students who are among the first generation of their family to attend any college. We bring these students together at Carleton, where they will share a commitment to learning not only from our faculty members, but also from each other.

We have made progress in diversifying our student body: 30 percent of the Class of 2022 is comprised of domestic students of color and another 12 percent are international students. These are the largest such totals in Carleton history. One of every eight students is among the first generation to attend a four-year college. And more than 30 percent of Carleton students come from middle-income households. We are proud of these numbers, but we are not content with them. There remains further progress to be made.

Sustained and focused outreach is especially important for high-achieving students from underrepresented and lower-income backgrounds, who, statistics show, may be reluctant to apply to highly selective colleges and universities. To help counter this, we partner with leading college access organizations such as Posse, QuestBridge, and College Possible to identify talented students who can thrive and succeed at Carleton. Our Taste of Carleton program pays for low- and middle-income students to visit campus so they can see firsthand what being a Carl is like. And our research shows that, if we can convince students to visit, the likelihood that they will apply and enroll increases substantially.

We are convinced that every student we admit can succeed here academically. But if we based our admission decisions only on high school grades, standardized test scores, and class rank, we’d miss a lot of exceptional students. Relying on mechanical formulaic inputs without looking at prospective students’ personalities, curiosity, and willingness to engage with our community would result in a student body that would be less rewarding to teach and, ultimately, less successful in the world after graduation.

And we don’t stop at admission. Once our students arrive on campus, we try to ensure they have the support they need to succeed. To that end, we offer a variety of programs to support low-income and first-generation students, students of color, students with disabilities, and students who might not be as familiar with a liberal arts environment as some of their peers are.

But the most important way we demonstrate our commitment to supporting students all the way through to graduation is through our robust financial aid program. We meet the full need of all admitted students for all four years, without sneaky scholarship packaging that looks great in the first year but changes in subsequent years. We don’t saddle students with a level of debt that would cause them to make difficult choices about selecting a major or how to spend their breaks. As much as we can, we try to level the playing field by supporting summer internships for low- and middle-income students. It’s important to recognize that internship support is really just another form of financial aid. We don’t want Carleton students to pass on a summer internship that would help them make headway in their chosen career because they need to earn money at an unrelated summer job instead.

At a base level, our success here depends upon resources. Carleton’s endowment per student is $398,000. That sounds good—until you consider that Williams’s is $1 million per student and Pomona’s is $1.2 million. The best way for us to make an immediate impact in recruiting a diverse student body is by increasing the portion of our endowment that is designated for financial aid. Our need for scholarship funds is pressing and deep. A gift of $100,000 can establish a scholarship fund or endow in perpetuity a summer internship for one student every year.

We value the progress we have made in building a more diverse student body, and we are committed to continuing to enroll new Carls from the widest possible range of backgrounds. You can be an important partner with us by recommending Carleton to talented prospective students from all backgrounds, by encouraging your employer to sponsor an internship or externship for our students, and by serving as a mentor to these amazing young people as they complete their education and launch their career.

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