2017 report shows sharp economic divide among students, more than half found to be in the top 20 percent

Friday, December 11, 2020

Graphic: Robyn De Leon


2017 report shows sharp economic divide among students, more than half found to be in the top 20 percent

By Christina Martinez, Raven Yamamoto

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged in the months prior to the Fall 2020 semester, many Americans experienced deep financial impacts that affected their ability to afford expenses, especially tuition costs for higher education. At LMU, many students had to make a decision whether to return after the university announced it would not lower tuition despite a fully-online semester. Though students protested against the increased costs, it was clear that it was to no avail and that many students from lower-income families that were unprepared for tuition increases may not be able to afford to return.

During a virtual town hall on Aug. 19, just before the term began, Provost Thomas Poon shared that 80 students were approved for a gap year and that 265 students would be taking leaves of absence. 

A 2017 New York Times (NYT) report shows the economic divide between students in the top and bottom fifth income brackets for several U.S. colleges and universities using information from a 2017 study done by Harvard University. The study based its findings on tax filings and tuition records for schools that receive Title IV funding, recording: how financially accessible and affordable each university was for 2013 graduates and how many adults aged 35 had moved up to more comfortable economic situations since their graduation, including for LMU.

LMU’s profile showed a stark divide between students in the top and bottom fifth income brackets. Over half of students are in the top 20%. To continue our investigation into LMU’s finances, AGENCY has listed key findings from the NYT report below regarding the economic demographics of LMU students.

The median family income of an LMU student was $163,700, meaning half of LMU’s students’ families from the study had yearly incomes less than $163,700, while the other half had incomes higher than this benchmark. The median income of an LMU family ranked third highest out of over 600 private colleges and marks a stark contrast to the median household income in Los Angeles ($69,150).

Over half of students came from families with incomes in the top fifth, or top 20%, with a yearly income of $150,000 or more. 65% of LMU students were found to be from families with incomes in the top 20 percent. These distinctions are also known as income quintiles, which divide the population of the United States into equal fifths that are divided by how high or low a family’s income is. 

13% of students were in the top 1 percent, with a yearly income of $630,000 or more per year. The top fifth is often further broken down into smaller distinctions. LMU placed 11th among private colleges for their number of students in the top 1%.

Only 3% of students were from the bottom 20 percent, with a yearly income of $20,000 or less per year. This statistic was among the lowest statewide and in the nation when it comes to economic diversity within the student body.

There was a 46% chance that an economically disadvantaged or low-income student would be financially comfortable as an adult. This statistic was among the highest statewide and nationwide.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines low-income families as those that have yearly incomes that do “not exceed 80 percent of the median family income for the area.” In Los Angeles County, the low-income mark is considered to be $49,979 or lower. 

Median student income at age 34 was $56,000 regardless of gender, meaning that half of LMU alumni were making less than $56,000 a year by age 34, and the other half were making more. The median student income for men was $65,800, considered among the highest among private colleges and in California overall. The median student income was $51,100 for women.

A small percentage of students from low income and economically disadvantaged backgrounds could expect to graduate into higher-paying jobs. 17% of LMU students moved up two or more income quintiles. This statistic is not considered among the highest or the lowest statewide or nationwide. A mere 2.5% of LMU students moved from the bottom to the top income quintile, a statistic noted to be among the lowest statewide.

Median LMU student income versus median LMU family income was positively correlated. NYT graphed the correlation between median student incomes and median family incomes. LMU’s position on this graph indicated a high median student income ($56,000) was correlated with a high median family income ($163,700) among alumni of the university. Both median student income and median family income for LMU were among the highest in the nation.

From 1980 to 2000, LMU’s accessibility rose for students in the top 20% and higher but decreased for those in the bottom 60%. This statistic tracks changes in accessibility and enrollment for students of diverse economic backgrounds.

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