Throughout U.S. history, attending university has led to upward social and economic mobility. But while colleges can help increase the earning power of low-income individuals and reduce income inequality overall, many universities cater to the wealthy, attracting mostly students from high-income homes. These colleges are often small, private schools with low student-to-faculty ratios and liberal arts curricula.
To determine the colleges with the wealthiest student bodies, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on family income of college students from the U.S. Department of Education. Colleges and universities were ranked based on median family income of enrolled students that entered school between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.
According to research from the New York Times, several colleges on this list — Washington and Lee University, Bucknell University, Kenyon College, Elon University, Boston College, Muhlenberg College, Lafayette College, and the University of Notre Dame — have more students enrolled from the top 1% of wealthy families than students from the entire bottom 60% of the income scale.
While elite schools tend to cater to the rich, the schools with the wealthiest student bodies range in selectiveness and competitiveness. Wealthy schools like the University of Notre Dame, Washington and Lee University, and Boston College are among the hardest colleges to get into, while schools like Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Saint Michael’s College, and Roger Williams University are less selective, with acceptance rates above 85%. (This is America’s most selective college.)
And while many of these schools carry a high price tag in tuition and fees, they offer generous help in the form of institutional financial aid. In recent decades, universities have increasingly offered financial aid to students from high-income families who may not need it, likely in the hopes of attracting a wealthy student body that may give back to the schools through alumni donations. At all 40 of the schools with the wealthiest student bodies, the average undergraduate received more financial aid than the national average. (These are the highest and lowest paying college majors in America.)
Some of the schools with the wealthiest student bodies have luxury amenities that make the “broke college student” stereotype seem out of place. The recently-renovated campus of High Point University in North Carolina, for example, includes five outdoor pools, a complimentary movie theater, and a steakhouse. At Oberlin College in Ohio, students can rent famous artworks by artists like Picasso, Lichtenstein, and Dali from the local art museum to keep in their dorms for just $5.
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