Note on Students’ Financial Circumstances

Note on the Changing Financial Circumstances of Barnard Students

Barnard among the Ivies (but like Columbia) and Sister colleges has traditionally had the most bipolar distribution of wealth among  its students. In part this is a function of locale, being situated in the City with the country’s richest families, but also in a city with a huge working class and continuous streams of immigrant families with little or no financial resources.

Barnard traditionally attracted  only a few of the daughters of the City’s financial and social elite, most of them from German-Jewish families who wished to keep their daughters in the City, but almost none from families of the City’s wealthy Protestants, whose college-bound daughters went off  from Brearley and Spence to Bryn Mawr or Vassar or Smith. These were the fortunate girls Trustee Rev. Arthur Brooks  referred to as “those not expected to have to earn a living.”

Barnard  drew in greater numbers  from New York families anxious to provide their daughters  with a rigorous undergraduate education that would lead to a respectable living,  but only if the family could afford the expenses.  The first stipulation — academic quality —  was met by Barnard’s affiliation with Columbia. The second  — afforadability — could  be met when Barnard was within commuting distance of the family residence, enabling the family to forego the costs of room and board  required if their daughter went away to college. These families’ academic ambitions for their daughters were further enabled after 1912 by the availability of Regents Scholarships for New York residents to help with tuition costs usable at New York private colleges.   Thus the three desiderata for attending Barnard for a majority of its students from its opening through World War Two: academic rigor;  propinquity; economy.


Ample evidence suggests Barnard students into the 1980s came from less wealthy circumstances than counterparts at the Ivies (Columbia excepted)  and other Sisters:
— Higher incidence of preparation at a public high school;
— Fewer fathers with professional or managerial livelihoods;
— Fewer incidences of legacies;
— Higher incidence of first-generation college goers.
— Higher proportion of students eligible for financial aid
— Higher proportion of students eligible for Pell grants (23% in 1983, ranking #1 among
Nation’s 30 Highest-ranked Liberal Arts Colleges)

Beginning sometime in the early 1990s and continuing since, the relative family financial circumstances from which Barnard students come have improved. This parallels and likely is partially accountable to the  growing selectivity of the student body. Among those seeking admission to Barnard are proportionally more applicants without substantial need of financial assistance. The Barnard student body in the 21st century, unlike most of the 20th, is no longer the poorest of the remaining Sister colleges.
The recent evidence with respect to the other Sister colleges:
— Barnard reports lower percentages of admitted students to require financial aid;
— Barnard’s percentage of Pell grant recipients has declined since the 2000, while that  at
other Sister colleges has increased; (17% in 2006, below Smith  (26%) and Mt. Holyoke (18%)
—  Smaller % first-years attended public schools (62% in 2006; 45% in 2017)


Evidence of increasing financial resources among Barnard students from Trustee Minutes

6/17/1998 – “Barnard now the most popular women’s college in US”

4/27/2001 – Gayle Robinson: “As Barnard becomes more selective, students less needy…”

6/12/2002 – Judith Shapiro: “As the college becomes more attractive, more self-supporting students are enrolling.”

2/9/2005 – Lew Wyman on less budgetary drain covering unfunded tuition: “Applicant pool has shown an upward shift in wealth”

9/28/2005 – BC “attracting a larger number of fee-paying students”

2/15/2006 – JS: BC getting a more wealthy applicant pool”
Linda Levinson: “The best prepared come from wealthier families”

6/7/2006 — % of students on financial aid decreased since 1997 (47%);                                                                                                     2004 (37%); 2006 (41%)


[NB: I don’t have access to Trustee Minutes beyond the Shapiro presidency .]