The Shocking Lack of Economic Diversity at Colgate

Prior to coming to Colgate, I had never heard the words Choate, Andover, Exeter or Deerfield. It wasn’t in my vocabulary. I admittedly didn’t even know boarding school was really a thing outside of Harry Potter. Or maybe Connecticut. To my surprise, private school is in fact a thing, and pretty prominent within the Colgate student body. According to Colgate’s admitted class profile for the class of 2026, 41 percent of Colgate students attend private high schools. For reference, only 12 percent of Americans attend private schools, according to the Brookings Institution. 

Colgate has one of the highest concentrations of wealth when compared to other private  universities in the United States. Based on millions of anonymous tax filings and tuition records reviewed by The New York Times in 2017, Colgate University ranked sixth in the highest proportion of students from the top 1 percent of income to the entire bottom 60 percent. The investigation found that 22.6 percent of Colgate’s student body comes from the top 1 percent of earners, while only 13.6 percent of students came from the bottom 60 percent of earners. 

This is all to say it’s not necessarily shocking that the majority of students attending Colgate are well-off, which makes sense when taking note of the fact that tuition, room and board now costs upwards of $80,000. And after four years, that totals to over $320,000, with additional increases in tuition each year. That’s a lot of money. Well, at least to most of us anyway…

Strolling through parking lots at Colgate, you’ll see an abundance of BMW’s and other higher-end cars. Looking at the license plates, it’s easy to imagine what fancy suburb from which large city each student is from. It seems that the majority of the student body here comes from similar places, despite the diversity in region, state or even country. The similarity, of course, being the economic background of the neighborhood or town people grow up in. 

Admittedly, it’s pretty clear Colgate is a bubble of wealth. A pocket of BMW’s and Canada Goose jackets in the middle of relatively poor and rural surroundings. I can’t help but feel Hamilton locals resent seeing Colgate students go shopping for their next mixer at Price Chopper or Dollar General.

Whatever diversity you may see on this campus in terms of race, gender, religion or native country of origin it is more often than not adjoined by the fact that the person of the differing identity is also rich. Therefore, how diverse is the majority of this student body, really? 

It makes sense business-wise for Colgate to accept so many high income students. Faculty, staff and services are expensive and need to be paid for. Money can be provided with an influx of wealthy students able to keep up with high tuition costs. This may make sense for the university in a business sense, but may not be the best in terms of equity.

What is being done about it? Despite how bleak you may think this lack of economic diversity may sound, Colgate has taken some ambitious steps to change things. Colgate has recently increased the amount of grants it gives out, which are preferred over loans since recipients of these grants do not have to pay them back. In the Class of 2026, 41 percent of students received financial aid, with approximately 11 percent of students receiving pell grants and 13 percent of new students being first-generation. The Colgate Commitment, established in 2021, says that students with family incomes under $80 thousand dollars will be able to attend Colgate tuition free. Students with family incomes between $80,000 thousand and $125 thousand spend an average 5 percent of their income toward tuition, and those between $125,000-$150,000 will spend 10 percent of their incomes on tuition. Those with family incomes above $150,000 can make claims and are awarded money based on the families perceived ability to pay.

I think much more can be done with this, especially with the explosive growth of Colgate’s endowment over the past six years. For reference, in 2017, Colgate’s endowment was $822 million, by 2019 the figure had grown to $934 million, and currently it stands above $1.2 billion. This is a 50 percent growth in funds. It is unknown where this money is coming from, or what stocks are being invested in. Regardless, I’m sure a tiny portion of the $1.2 billion could be set aside for increased financial aid for an even larger amount of Colgate students. 

According to the Colgate commitment, $1.5 million was awarded to students in the first year of Colgate’s no-loan initiative. If push comes to shove, how unrealistic would setting aside an additional $10-20 million per-year for grants really be? This endowment fund is our money, as far as I’m concerned, so we might as well put it to some good use.