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Anxiety, Values and Undergrad Education

Last week Columbia University announced a $400 million gift for financial aid - the kind of philanthropic grand gesture that most colleges only dream about.  While the gift was referenced several times, the celebratory tone of that announcement was gone: Those gathered are worried -- deeply worried -- about whether top colleges are sufficiently open to low-income students, and whether colleges are providing the right experience for all of their students.

Those at the conference got a bit of a challenge on the issue of racial diversity from Thomas R. Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College of Columbia. Bailey pointed out that the closest community college to Columbia is Bronx Community College. There are about 7,200 black and Hispanic students there. That's about as many black and Hispanic undergraduates as there are in the eight Ivy League universities combined, he noted. And when considering how many of the Ivy undergraduates aren't from low-income backgrounds, the contrast is even more striking, he said.

If education leaders really want to find ways to educate more minority students, Bailey said, it's time to realize that the institutions that do have those students operate in "a different universe" from the Columbias of the world. How to best spend $400 million on financial aid? How to attract more low-income minority students? The first question isn't exactly a hot topic in the Bronx, Bailey said, and as for the second, community colleges aren't worried about their ability to attract low-income minority students. They do that quite well.

This article appeared in the April 16, 2007 edition of the Inside Higher Ed.

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