The New York Times published an article on November 19 that criticized Fairfield University for having the lowest percentage of Pell Grant recipients of any college in the United States for the 2020-21 first-year class. 

Broadly mentioning the new $51 million Leo D. Mahoney Arena in his lead, the author of the article, Your Money columnist Ron Lieber, went on to question the university’s decision-making in relation to low-income students. 

According to Lieber, “…the figure [of Pell Grant recipients] has become a proxy for a higher education institution’s commitment to pulling students up from the lowest rungs of the social-class ladder.”

Toward the conclusion of his article, Lieber acknowledged the university’s planned opening of Fairfield Bellarmine next fall, which will offer a two-year associate’s degree to lower-income and first-generation students from Bridgeport and surrounding communities.

During his investigation, Lieber reached out to several university personnel, giving them the chance to offer their thoughts on the Pell-Grant-recipient statistic.

Those who commented include Corry Unis, vice president for strategic enrollment management, James Murphy, a senior policy analyst for Education Reform Now, Paul Lakeland, a professor and founding director of the university’s Center for Catholic Studies and Eden Marchese ’23, director of diversity and inclusion for the Fairfield University Student Association. 

Comments appear to vary in stance. Unis and Lakeland refrained from speaking about the university’s commitment to low-income students, whereas Marchese claimed to be unsurprised by the statistic, further tying it to their own feelings of belonging on campus. 

Murphy reported to Lieber that Fairfield’s first-year student Pell recipients decreased by 44 percent over four years, down to 7.5 percent in 2020-21 from 13.3 percent in 2016-17. Murphy commented that this reflects the decision-making of those assumed to be “pretty high up the ladder” at the university. 

Throughout the article, Lieber brought up the university’s Jesuit mission frequently. In his conclusion, he wrote that he reached out to “people with expertise on Catholic teachings” at the university, inquiring about the “godliness of a low Pell number.” 

He also questioned the university’s “so-called merit aid” and how donors are allocating their money, citing the new arena in particular.

Lieber concluded that such a low Pell number leaves “current students wondering how much the institution cares for people who are historically underrepresented.” 

Overall, the national news article seemed to suggest that the low Pell-Grant-recipient statistic regarding the 2020-21 first-year class indicates that the university neglects to address and support low-income students. 
The Rearview will continue to update the story as it progresses.

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