UC Irvine earned first place in a New York Times ranking of colleges based on their commitment to economic diversity. The top of the list, called the College Access Index, was dominated by the UC system, but included private colleges like Harvard University and Amherst College as well. The list was diverse, including campuses across the country, both private and public. The list also only included schools with a five-year graduation rate of at least 75 percent.
UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman expressed his intense pride in the ranking, saying in an email to the student body that “topping The New York Times’ list is a sound reminder that UCI is fulfilling its promise to offer California’s brightest young people a world-class education and the opportunity to pursue the lives they want to lead as productive and informed citizens.”
Gillman also quoted himself from an editorial published in the Orange County Register last month.
“Elite universities should examine their role in the country’s deepening economic divide and take steps to address the disparities” so that they can become “the engines of social mobility they were meant to be” Gillman said.
The individual endowments of schools also varied highly on the list. UCI, for example, had about $7,100 per student in endowments. Princeton had $2.66 million per student in endowments and Harvard had $1.51 million in endowments per student. The overall endowment of Harvard was an estimated $37.6 billion in 2015, while the endowment of the whole UC system in the same year was $14.27 billion.
The only three UC campuses not on the ranking were UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz and UC Merced. Of the remaining six that were in the ranking, all of them were within the top 10.
UCI ranked first, UC Santa Barbara ranked second, UC Davis ranked third, UC San Diego ranked fourth, UCLA ranked fifth and UC Berkeley ranked ninth.
An op-ed column by David Leonhardt accompanied the study and argued that “The country’s most powerful engine of upward mobility is under assault.”
According to Leonhardt, public colleges serve as an important means of upward mobility in the country because of their cheap cost, relative to the increase in income gained by those with a college degree.
However, state funding for public universities has declined across the United States over the past several decades. This causes universities to raise tuition which in turn prevents lower and middle income students from attending.
Because of declining state support, the percentage of freshmen receiving Pell grants has dropped at all UC campuses, though to varying degrees. The UC system as a whole averages about 42 percent of students receiving Pell grants. UCI was above average, with about 45 percent receiving such grants in the 2015-2016 school year. UC San Diego is an extreme outlier in the UC system, with the percentage of freshmen receiving Pell grants dropping from 46 percent in 2011-2012 to 26 percent in 2015-2016.
The index utilized Pell grants as major data point because it is a major federal financial aid program that generally goes to lower and middle income students. Most people who receive Pell grants come from households that earn less than $50,000, and a significant percentage of grant-receivers also come from households earning between $50,000 and $100,000. Eligibility for Pell grants is based upon a variety of financial factors, including family income, size and the number of children attending college.
The year 2011 represented a turning point in UC budgetary history; it was the first year in UC history where student fee contributions exceeded contributions from the state of California. That year, tuition and fees for UC undergraduates totaled about $14,000 individually and contributed $3 billion in total to core operating funds for the university, as compared to the $2.38 billion that the state contributed that same year. In 2015, the state contribution rose to $3 billion, but the student contribution remained higher at $3.2 billion.