Speaking of social mobility, our Colorado
reporter, Jason Gonzales, examined the record of his state’s flagship
on serving low-income residents. The bottom line: It’s not very good, and it hasn’t gotten much better over time.
The percentage of Pell Grant recipients at the University of Colorado at Boulder has moved from 12% in 2008 to 16% a decade later. Those numbers look a lot more like Harvard’s and Stanford’s than many of its public flagship peers’, in places like Arizona and California.
We asked Jason, who works for our partner Chalkbeat Colorado,
to share some thoughts about what struck him as he reported the story.
Q. What surprised you most?
A. I knew CU Boulder’s numbers were low from previous research. I also have experience with what I’ve seen firsthand on the campus. As a Pell student that graduated from the school more than a decade ago, I was always aware of how few students shared similar backgrounds and looked like me.
I think what stood out to me is just how persistent the issue has been for the school. I do know they’ve tried to bring in more students from low-income backgrounds, but it’s interesting to see how the school stacks up to other flagships.
Q. What one data point really stood out?
A. CU Boulder ranks fifth lowest among flagships in the enrollment of students with Pell Grants. Throughout the reporting, I tried to keep in mind that this is really about where the school sits compared to others. This issue for CU Boulder isn’t in a vacuum.
Q. What’s at stake?
A. There is a quote in the story about Colorado as a “playground” for rich people from out of state. Through the reporting, I really felt like that hit the nail on the head. My analysis is this is all about economic mobility and opportunity.
Colorado residents are at risk of being left behind in the state’s thriving economy if they don’t have the same access to the state’s top university.
Q. Why does it matter whether Colorado’s flagship has a record more like Harvard’s or more like the University of California’s on the percentage of low-income students it enrolls?
A. That’s a question I asked every person I interviewed: Why does enrolling Pell students matter? There are other universities in the state educating students, so should we care?
The answer I heard is a resounding yes.
To put this into context, as a flagship, CU Boulder receives more state tax dollars and has a mission to educate Colorado students. The school should be held accountable for who it is serving.
Q. What are you planning next?
A. My next story will explore what completion numbers look like in the state. Access without completion doesn’t mean much, so I want to know where the gaps are.