When college tuition goes up, campus diversity goes down

As college tuition continues to rise at a staggering rate, people tend to worry about how much harder it becomes for students and families to pay for college.

As researchers who focus on higher education, we found a different reason to worry.

We examined tuition hikes at public four-year colleges and universities over a 14-year period. We wanted to see if tuition increases at public colleges and universities changed the racial and ethnic makeup of students on campus.

What we found is that for every $1,000 increase in tuition at four-year nonselective public universities, diversity among full-time students decreased by 4.5 percent.

In other words, as tuition goes up, diversity goes down. The end result is the nation’s colleges and universities become less reflective of the ethnic diversity of the United States as a whole.

How long does it take for tuition to rise by $1,000 at a given university? A $1,000 hike could happen over the course of only one or two years in some cases. Over the past decade tuition and fees rose by $2,690 at public four-year institutions.

Why diversity on campus matters

The fact that diversity drops when tuition rises at certain colleges and universities is a big deal. For starters, it means that more minorities might choose not to enroll in college and, therefore, forego the economic and social benefits of higher education.

But less diversity doesn’t just affect those who are priced out of higher education. It also affects students who are able to afford college.

A decade’s worth of research shows that more diversity on campus brings numerous benefits. These benefits include a richer intellectual environment that features a variety of different perspectives.

Across 1,800 empirical studies, there is a striking “consistency in the evidence regarding students’ engagement with diverse peers.” This is particularly the case in relation to students’ exposure to diversity, whether that exposure be in class, through student organizations or even informal campus encounters.