Unfortunately, Carleton College doesn’t seem interested in serving many low-income students. As a Minnesota taxpayer, as well a Carleton graduate and parent of a Carleton graduate, I’ve joined others raising concerns. Minnesota taxpayers provide substantial scholarship funds to Carleton. But people wanting to help significant numbers of students from low-income families may want to contribute elsewhere.

Carleton’s faculty made the stunning decision recently to significantly DECREASE the number of credits that entering students will be allowed to transfer into the college via Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, College in the Schools, or Postsecondary Enrollment Options beginning in 2026. Carleton will be more expensive. Its 2022-23 tuition, room, meals, and other fees total $78,624. Alumni and others are being asked to help provide four-year scholarships for lower- and middle-income families that wouldn’t be as necessary if Carleton accepted a year or more of dual-credit courses.

Carleton appears to be ignoring considerable research showing dual-credit programs help encourage high school and college graduation. Many studies document that taking such courses produces “academic momentum” as students from low- or moderate-income families learn they can succeed in academic or technical colleges and universities. (See https://www.peopleforpseo.org/impact.)

Tatem Rios helps illustrate this.

Rios, a Minnesotan from a low-income family, told me: “Before starting PSEO, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. As a first gen(eration) student, I lacked the confidence I needed to be successful in college. … Because of PSEO, I gained the confidence and momentum … to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Engineering. … This program gives students the chance to change their life trajectory.”

The University of Minnesota accepted her PSEO credits. She explained: “It was incredibly important that all my credits transferred from PSEO.” MIT is covering “all my costs” to pursue an Ph.D. in materials science and engineering, she added.

Neal Mukherjee, a Wayzata High School graduate with University of Minnesota PSEO credits, was accepted at Rice University and the University of California, Berkeley. UC Berkeley accepted his PSEO credits. Rice wouldn’t. By going to UC Berkeley, Mukherjee estimates that he saved $130,000, graduating two years early. He “could not justify the two-fold increase in time and tuition/residence costs it would take to attend, so I chose Berkeley.”

I learned about Carleton’s new policy after Alison Byerly, the college’s president, declined an interview request but agreed to answer a few questions via email. When she told me on March 22 about this faculty decision, I asked for clarification, providing research and examples. Almost two months passed. No response.

Some people might think, “Carleton is a private college; they don’t have to respond.” But the taxpayer-funded Minnesota Office of Higher Education gave Carleton $593,900 to provide scholarships for Minnesota students during the 2021 fiscal year.

How much of a commitment does Carleton have to students from low-income families? National data shows that 14% of Carleton’s students receive Federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to students with more significant financial needs. That compares to 19% at Macalester and 20% at St. Olaf.

Carleton’s new plan, among other things, seeks to increase that figure to 18.5% by 2026 (still less than St. Olaf and Macalester). Carleton has a large grant to help. It’s requesting matching donations.

But as Rios and Mukherjee explained, Carleton’s dual-credit policy makes it less attractive to some students, including youngsters from low-to-moderate-income families who’d like to graduate in three years.

A 2021 national study on social mobility (https://www.socialmobilityindex.org/) provides additional disturbing research. It ranks colleges and universities by social mobility – how well colleges help low-income students move into the upper half of income. Carleton ranks 1,483 among 1,550 U.S. colleges and universities.

A May essay by a Carleton student, published in the student newspaper, cited social mobility research and concluded: “Carleton is an integral cog in the American machine that keeps the poor poor and the rich rich.”

Even if Carleton achieves its Pell goal, more than 80% of Carls WON’T be from low-income families. If people want to help significant numbers of these students succeed, the Social Mobility index shows there are many better options than contributing to Carleton. - Joe Nathan 

(Editor's note: Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org or @JoeNathan9249 on Twitter.)

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