Several schools, including Catholic University, said financial struggles have limited their ability to provide aid. Catholic University recently laid off a handful of staff members. The school also points to its relatively modest endowment: $308 million.
“We are unfortunately not a school with an endowment that starts with a B,” said Christopher Lydon, vice president for enrollment management and marketing at Catholic University.
Notre Dame, Boston College, and Georgetown—all Catholic schools with endowments worth more than a billion dollars—offer more generous financial aid to their poorest students.
But like Catholic University, the schools don’t enroll many of them. The percentage of students who receive Pell grants—federal grants for students whose families typically earn under $30,000—is less than 14 percent at each of the schools. Nonprofit four-year colleges on average have around 40 percent Pell grant recipients.
The wealthier Catholic universities say that they are working hard to enroll more low-income students. Georgetown and Boston College have need-blind admissions and guarantee to meet the full needs of students through financial aid. Notre Dame, which has an $8 billion endowment, recently announced a $20 million fund to cover college expenses for low-income students. The school also has begun to enroll undocumented students and give them funds to match Pell grants, for which they are ineligible.
“Notre Dame is devoting considerable resources to attracting and, as importantly, supporting students from low socioeconomic households,” said the school’s spokesman, Dennis K. Brown.
Some Catholic universities with modest resources stand out for serving the poor. Just down the road from Catholic University sits Trinity Washington, which has some well-known graduates, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The women’s university has a tiny $11 million endowment. But nearly 65 percent of its students receive Pell grants. The poorest students graduate with on average $16,000 of debt from federal loans.
Trinity Washington’s president, Patricia McGuire, believes that other Catholic schools should follow a similar path. “There’s a whole group of schools that want to be in the Ivy Leagues and want to be considered prestigious, and then there’s the rest of us who believe education is not about competition,” said McGuire. “Every institution needs to examine its own conscience about whether it could do more for students on the margins.”
Anthony Carnevale, a professor at Georgetown and the director of the university’s Center on Education and the Workforce, says the lack of low-income students is being driven by college ratings and competition for high-performing applicants. “Christianity, let alone Catholicism, is supposed to be about taking care of each other and throwing the money changers out of the temple, but Jesus didn’t have to run a college,” said Carnevale. “The only way for colleges to survive is to become more and more selective, and in this country, it means whiter and wealthier.”
This article appears courtesy of ProPublica.