BC Works To Assist Students In Difficult Economic Times
Published: Sunday, December 4, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Editor's Note: This is the second installment of a three-part series addressing the challenges and role of higher education in the post-recession economy.
At the peak of the most recent recession, unemployment for individuals with less than a high school diploma peaked at near 16 percent. The high figure is juxtaposed with an unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree or greater topping out at just 4.5 percent for the same period. From the disparity, the nation is beginning to understand that education can be a great equalizer.
Given the trend, however, the question becomes how institutions of higher education have developed practices to ensure that educational opportunities are attainable, especially given growing socioeconomic disparities.
For BC, the process of ensuring that educational opportunities are available for all based upon merit is twofold: the admissions process and financial aid.
"As a staff, we are committed to enrolling the highest quality student body, and diversity is one component of quality," said John Mahoney, director of undergraduate admissions. "Having students from all kinds of backgrounds enriches the learning environment for everyone. Our philosophy is that the recruitment of students from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds is everyone's responsibility."
One of the ways Mahoney's staff ensures diversity in race, class, and experiences is through active recruitment activity at a variety of high schools. Mahoney said his staff is encouraged to identify strong inner city schools or programs that serve students from lower income families and engage the institutions during their travel on recruitment trips.
"We strive to have an outcome with high-quality students from various backgrounds," said Robert Lay, Dean of Enrollment Management. "When we read applications, we are looking at high schools and assessing the environment where the applicant came. Our approach is to assess character and one's ability to achieve at high levels within any institution they are placed."
In New York and New Jersey, Mahoney noted that admissions officers have forged strong relations with various nonprofits, such as Prep for Prep, the Wight Foundation, and the New Jersey Seeds program, that identify marginalized yet talented students in middle school and place them in top private schools.
In Massachusetts, Boston College has formed relations with organizations that provide academic enrichment and college prep programs to motivated public school students such as Let's Get Ready, Bottom Line, and Bruce Wells Scholars.
Mahoney was also quick to point out the success BC has had in Chicago by partnering with the Chicago Scholars Program, providing academic and college counseling support to inner city Chicago students. Marybeth Cheverie, senior assistant director of admissions, has met with 42 students in the program thus far this year.
Nationwide, BC also collaborates with Upward Bound programs and Cristo Rey schools to expand educational access and improve recruitment at a diverse set of high schools.
"We recruit actively in the network of 25 Cristo Rey schools," Mahoney said. "This network identifies students from poor economic backgrounds and provides them with jobs that allow them to pay their high school tuition. Students go to school four days a week and work one day to pay their tuition."
Mahoney himself has visited Cristo Rey schools nationwide, including locations in Houston, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.
Once students have met the threshold of admission to BC they benefit from an additional admissions policy: need blind.
Need-blind admission denotes college admission policy in which the admitting institution does not consider an applicant's financial situation when deciding admission.
"Need blind doesn't mean we are blind," Lay said. "It means that the criteria for admission doesn't systematically advantage the poor, nor does it disadvantage the wealthy. The criteria is about assessing personal characteristics from each individual's background."
"If you are from a privileged background, it may be positive, maybe not," he said. "Whether from a privileged or humbled background, what is important is how you performed in your environment, how you showed personal character and integrity. We want to see that no matter where, you were working hard, ignoring the distractions of high school. Is wealth an advantage or disadvantage? It really all depends on how one succeeds in their surrounding environment given the opportunities before them."
However, with undergraduate tuition at BC for the 2011-2012 academic year at $41,480, not including room and board, books, or lab fees, the figure presents a challenge for most students and their families considering BC as an option. While BC has programs in place to broaden its admission, making the dream a reality becomes yet another challenge for many families. For students who struggle paying for school, the challenge is eased by BC's policy to meet 100 percent of students' demonstrated financial need – only one of 63 nationwide to do so, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Meeting full need is no easy task. Last year, the full demonstrated need amounted to $84.5 million, with an average need-based financial aid package of $34,000. BC meets the need through a compilation of need-based scholarships, loans, and work study grants.
"We take extra effort to find students that will come to BC, and because of that we are going to make it possible for the talented to attend," Lay said. "With financial aid, we want to make it clear that attending is not a major risk. We want you to graduate. We expect you to graduate. Therefore, our financial aid reflects that - not too much loans or work study. We also have financial aid that acts as a safety net. Our financial aid policy is to reevaluate at any point, depending on a change in personal financial situation."