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Shaw probes role of socioeconomic diversity in admissions

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Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Richard Shaw spoke at a 'fireside chat' in Branner Hall yesterday evening. Among other topics, he discussed how low-income applicants are judged relative to their circumstances. (KOR VANG/The Stanford Daily)

Last night, Dean of Undergraduate Admission Richard Shaw spoke about the manner in which his office looks at socioeconomic diversity in a “fireside chat” at Branner Hall.

The event is largely a response to a student’s letter to the First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP) community — what FLIP co-president Michael Albada ‘11 called a “raw, heart-wrenching appeal.” The student spoke of how being a low-income student alienated him not only from his friends at Stanford, but from his family back home as well. The letter was forwarded to members of the administration like Shaw and was taken as “a real issue of concern,” Albada said.

In last night’s fireside chat, Shaw spoke briefly about the admissions process in relation to Stanford’s commitment to socioeconomic diversity and then addressed questions students had submitted online prior to the talk.

“I just want to tell you that you’re fantastic,” Shaw said at the start of his talk. “I think the role you play as at Stanford is very important.”

Shaw pointed to the four Stanford students who recently won Truman Scholarships. All four winners are on financial aid and two are the first in their family to go to college, he said.

According to Shaw, unlike universities like Harvard or Yale, Stanford was founded as a “university for the people” that is “open and accessible to all.” Now, just as then, Stanford’s goal is to create a student body that is representative of the world, he added.

In the admissions process, Stanford looks at statistics like class status and SAT scores, he said. These numbers are examined in the context of the student’s experience.

“There is no formula,” Shaw said. “We take every candidate as a singular consideration. We look at what you’ve done with the resources you have.”

Regardless, the admissions process is a competitive one. When shaping its new class of students, Stanford looks for passion, depth and breadth — the students who are the best in their community. But the truth is that not all low-income kids are competitive, Shaw said.

“That’s a reflection on the nation,” Shaw said. “We don’t have a great educational system. A lot of kids are not getting the kind of education that would make them competitive.”

At Stanford, 17 percent of students come from families who earn less than $60,000 a year, an income group that constitutes roughly 50 percent of the American population.

At the end of the discussion, students expressed appreciation for Shaw’s words.

“It’s refreshing to meet the man, the man who signed your admission letter,” said Tianay Puphus ’13.

Some students, however, still felt lingering concerns.

“It’s a tremendous culture shock coming here,” Albada said. “The financial barrier is the most obvious barrier [for low-income students] but the least pressing one. We need to address the issue of belonging and promote a greater sense of community and awareness.”

Correction: In a previous version of this article, The Daily incorrectly reported that nine percent of Stanford students come from families who earn less than $60,000 a year and that four students won the Marshall Scholarship. In fact, 17 percent of students are part of this income bracket and the four students are Truman Scholarship recipients.

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