How Do We Offset Private Liberal Arts Colleges' Rich-Kid Bias?

Although private liberal arts colleges (PLACs) are spending less on their students' educations than they did in the past, they favor those who can pay more of it. A recent working paper found that the "total cost per student also declined by 4.5 percent per year from 2008 to 2011" at PLACs. And when Inside Higher Ed interviewed 462 admissions counselors at PLACs in 2011, 20% said applicants with bad grades who can pay full tuition have an advantage over better academic performers from poorer families in the admissions process.


But this is what makes the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations' grantmaking really cool. AVDF focuses its generosity on "privately governed and supported four-year, residential, liberal arts institutions which place strong emphasis on teaching and whose students choose majors primarily in the arts and sciences," as opposed to career-oriented schools. (See Arthur Vining Davis Foundation: Grants for Higher Education.) The foundation places an emphasis on Appalachian schools, historically black colleges, tribal colleges, and Work College Consortium-affiliated schools that understand the importance of recruiting kids from marginalized backgrounds.

AVDF gives to PLACs with these types of sensibilities and leaves it to a school's president to allocate the money in accordance with its best intuitions. (Read AVDF President Nancy Cable's IP profile.)

Recipients in 2013 included Clark University, Grinnell College, and Hamilton.

By no means is AVDF a household name in higher ed funding. Its grants average between $200,000 and $250,000; two rare exceptions include $2 million to Emory in 2002 and $1.5 million for Brandeis in 2007. But the reason I am writing about AVDF here is that it will soon increase its grantmaking in the area. Nancy J. Cable, former Bates College vice president, replaced the retiring AVDF president, Dr. John Howe, in late 2012. Cable has spent many years fundraising for liberal arts colleges, and it seems likely that she will devote a larger share of AVDF's resources to higher education than did Howe, who, while also highly educated, spent much of his career in the military and government sectors.