ST. LOUIS (AP) -- One of the country's top universities is increasing its annual financial commitment to low-income undergraduate students by $25 million in hopes of eliminating a dubious distinction among its well-off peers.
Washington University in St. Louis has announced plans to increase its share of students eligible to receive federal Pell grants from 8 percent to 13 percent by 2020. The highly rated private school ranks at the bottom of the country's wealthiest schools when it comes to how few Pell recipients it enrolls. Pell grants are generally limited to students whose family income is below $40,000.
"Improving the socio-economic diversity of our student body is not just important; it's critical to our success as a university," said Holden Thorp, the school's provost.
Thorp and others previously acknowledged funneling more financial aid to affluent students with high tests scores as part of a coordinated effort to elevate the school's national stature. But now the pendulum has swung in the other direction, with student activists and national news outlets taking the university to task for not doing more to lessen the economic disparity on campus.
The recent focus on low-income students has already paid dividends, campus officials said: Pell grant recipients accounted for just 5 percent of the roughly 7,500 undergraduates two years ago and 6 percent of such students in the 2013-14 academic year.
In addition to the new annual commitment, the university has committed $75 million in new endowment funds for need-based financial aid.
Past efforts to recruit Pell-eligible students have included personal phone calls from the school's financial aid director and participation in programs such as Target Hope, a pre-college program for hundreds of disadvantaged Chicago public school students who visit the university each spring on an all-expenses paid recruiting trip.
Annual tuition at Washington University is set to increase by $1,600 in the fall semester to $47,300, a 3.5 percent boost the school says is its lowest such hike, by percentage, in nearly 50 years. Campus housing costs $9,482 to $10,486, depending on accommodations, and meal plans range from just over $4,000 to $5,576.