Sep 27, 2023 - News

BYU's among the nation's least economically diverse colleges, per federal aid analysis

Brigham Young University in Provo, September 2009. Photo: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Brigham Young University is one of the least economically diverse universities in the nation, according to a New York Times Magazine analysis of federal financial aid.

By the numbers: 12% of BYU's freshman class in 2020-21 were Pell Grant recipients, down 4% from a decade earlier, the Times found.

  • That's the fifth lowest Pell share among the 286 most-selective schools in the country, the Times reported, placing BYU in a tie for No. 257.
  • The average Pell share was 21%.

Of note: Pell Grants are federal scholarships granted to students of "exceptional financial need."

The intrigue: BYU, operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is generally considered a bargain among private schools.

  • Forbes in 2019 ranked the school No. 1 in its "Best Value Colleges" list, and BYU typically scores high in the U.S. News & World Report rankings for economic value.
  • Undergraduate tuition is $3,248 per semester for church members and $6,496 for nonmembers. Church members are charged less "in recognition" of tithes paid by their families, which cover "a significant portion of university operating costs," BYU's website states.

What they're saying: "In recent years, outreach efforts have expanded to include areas of low socioeconomic status and recruiting events have been conducted in areas where high populations of Pell-eligible students reside," BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins wrote in a statement to Axios.

  • "Our transfer process is another area where we are engaged in outreach efforts, offering support that would be helpful to first-generation students."

Why it matters: The church's spending on its three BYU campuses has drawn scrutiny from Canada, where a CBC investigation last year found more than $1 billion in tax-exempt donations have been directed to private American universities in the past 15 years.

  • The donations are legal, but the sum is exceptional; BYU locations get as much funding in tax-free Canadian donations as all Ivy League schools —combined, the CBC found.
  • If BYU's flagship campus isn't serving many low-income students, that could recharge criticism that the donations are siphoning Canadian tax dollars for public services there.

Zoom out: The University of Utah, the state's only other university in the Times' report, tied for No. 81 with 24% of students receiving Pell Grants.

  • Berea College, a Kentucky school historically geared toward low-income students from Appalachia, had the nation's highest share, at 94%.
  • Four schools tied for least economically diverse, at 8%: Bates College in Maine, Fairfield University in Connecticut, Oberlin in Ohio and Tulane in New Orleans.
  • Most schools in the analysis fell between 15% and 24%.

The big picture: The end of affirmative action — plus new scrutiny on legacy admissions — has put a spotlight on colleges' efforts to consider wealth in acceptance decisions, the Times' David Leonhardt and Ashley Wu wrote.


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