President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 was the only president of a selective, private university on a panel of college leaders invited to the White House to reveal a new Department of Education report, titled “Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education."
According to a Department of Education press release, the report “calls on states and higher education leaders to prioritize efforts that advance diversity on college campuses,” and outlines strategies that would enable that, including changes to outreach and financial aid.
President Joe Biden called on the Department of Education to produce such a report on the day the Supreme Court’s decisions overhauling consideration of race in admissions this June. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said at the event, “The affirmative action decision, which I believe was wrong, took away a tool to increase diversity on our college campuses.”
Eisgruber's inclusion reflects his prominence in the debate on affirmative action. In January, Eisgruber said that in the case of a Supreme Court decision overturning affirmative action, Princeton will “be creative and persistent in our efforts to preserve and build upon the diversity of our scholarly and educational community.” Princeton has yet to make any major changes to their admissions protocol beyond changing essay prompts and ensuring that protocols are in compliance with the ruling. Another initiative the University has already announced is an ad hoc committee that will examine admissions policies at Princeton. It is expected to provide its recommendations at the end of this academic year.
According to the press release, the Department of Education report specifically asks universities to invest in targeted recruitment and give consideration to applicants’ adversity — including financial means and personal instances of “hardship and discrimination.” Moreover, it advises universities to increase affordability through need-based aid and cultivate “welcoming and supportive environments.” According to the Department of Education, it considered research and efforts already being taken by schools in producing the report.
Notably, Princeton has among the most generous financial aid programs in the country, as it announced last year that most students coming from families earning up to $100,000 a year will pay nothing. Eisgruber focused his remarks on Princeton's financial aid policy saying that Princeton's large endowment has enabled it to increase affordability for students.
“University endowments, which exist at hundreds of American public and private schools, spend about half of their income on financial aid. They are tremendous forces of good in this country,” he said.
Princeton's endowment sits at nearly $36 billion dollars, far exceeding the next highest endowment represented on the panel — that of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), at $4.5 billion. In addition to the chancellor of UCLA, the panel also included the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and presidents of Northern Virginia Community College, Trinity Washington University, and Morgan State University.
Eisgruber also noted that Princeton's admissions officers are “trained to recognize that persevering through socioeconomic disadvantage is a direct indicator of potential success in college and beyond.” He added that Princeton engages with pre-college bridge programs to encourage low income and first-generation students to apply to the University.
Eisgruber also discussed the expansion of Princeton's transfer program as “a powerful vehicle for diversity.”
"These students have brought outstanding talent and new and valuable perspectives and experiences to Princeton," he said. Eisgruber added that the University is also piloting an initiative that would allow New Jersey community college students to earn Princeton course credits and “demonstrate their ability to successfully transition to a four-year degree program.”
“Our ambition is to help see the network of campuses that can scale such a program nationally and close the completion gap between community colleges and four-year schools,” he said.
Eisgruber referred to Shaun Cason ’23, the first transfer student at Princeton and first decorated veteran to win the Sachs Scholarship, in his address.
“My goal is to educate more Shaun Casons,” he said. Cardona called Cason's story “powerful.”
“I appreciate your leadership at Princeton,” Cardona added.
Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden, who chaired the event with Cardona, noted that “the example of Princeton in these areas is really helpful for people to understand that our support for these issues crosses all institutions.”
Legacy admissions became a key issue in the weeks following the court’s decision, with the Department of Education opening an investigation into Harvard’s use of the admissions practice and Wesleyan ended its consideration entirely. Its future at Princeton remains unknown.
Sandeep Mangat is a head News editor at the 'Prince.'
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