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Class of 2008 brings economic diversity, stronger academics

By Ruth Stevens

Princeton NJ -- The University has enrolled the largest number of freshmen from low-income families in its history this fall and, for the second consecutive year, is awarding need-based financial aid to a record 52 percent of the class.

While continuing to achieve economic diversity, the University also is strengthening the already-robust academic credentials of its student body. The most academically talented applicants make up 53.3 percent of the freshman class, compared to 46.9 percent last year.

''. . . we have the highest percentage of freshmen on grant aid of any of our sister institutions.''

''Princeton has had another excellent year in undergraduate admission and financial aid, and I welcome the opportunity to transmit this annual report to the faculty,'' said Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel, who spoke at the Sept. 13 faculty meeting.

She noted that the proportion of entering freshmen receiving financial aid is the same as last year, which was the highest percentage in the University's history. ''Based on preliminary reports from other Ivy universities,'' she said, ''we have the highest percentage of freshmen on grant aid of any of our sister institutions.''

She said that the number of students in the class of 2008 from low-income households (defined as below $49,900 a year) reached an all-time high for Princeton of 161, up from 126 in the class of 2007.

The comparisons between this year's entering class and the class of 2001, the last class admitted before Princeton began instituting its recent financial aid improvements, are even more striking. The number of students on financial aid has increased by 176, or 41 percent, from 432 to 608; the percentage of the class on financial aid has increased from 38 percent to 52 percent; and the number of students from low-income families has increased by 73, or 83 percent, from 88 to 161.

While Princeton continues to follow its longstanding policy of admitting students on a need-blind basis and then meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted students who require assistance, it began to make significant changes in its financial aid policies seven years ago to become even more affordable to lower- and middle-income students. As a result of these changes, Princeton has replaced all required loans in its financial aid packages with increased grants, which need not be repaid, and has adjusted its formulas for determining need to reduce the amounts that both students and families are expected to contribute.

Also attesting to the success of the University's recruitment efforts are the academic achievements of the class of 2008. Malkiel pointed to the increasingly high representation in the class of the most academically talented applicants. The percentages have been steadily climbing since the University implemented special recruiting efforts by faculty members several years ago. The percentage this year is nearly double the 2001 figure.

Students judged by the admission office to have the strongest academic credentials -- credentials that make them the most sought after nationally -- made up 27.6 percent of the class of 2001, the last class admitted before the efforts were introduced. The program includes greater participation by faculty members in contacting admitted students with special interest in their fields.

For more figures on the freshman class, as well as new graduate students, see ''By the numbers'' in the Sept. 5 issue of the Weekly Bulletin <pwb/04/0905/>.