Two jobs and a lot of discipline—that's how Christina Tergevorkian, a junior accounting major at Westminster College, said she planned to put herself through college. She said she didn't receive help from her parents to pay for school, so she applied for scholarships, loans and FAFSA grants. The remainder of her tuition was paid out of her own pocket.
A new study from The Equality of Opportunity Project, done with 38 colleges nationwide, found severe wealth distribution inequalities at colleges across the United States—some of which had more students from the top 1 percent of the economic scale enrolled in their schools than from the bottom 60 percent.
The top 1 percent is made up of individuals who make an annual income of $630,000 or more. The bottom 60 percent is made up individuals who make $65,000 or less per year.
As of 2013, Westminster College enrolled 10.3 percent of low- and middle-income students, according to a New York Times article on The Equality of Opportunity Project.
Tergevorkian said she knows students at Westminster whose parents pay their whole tuition, students who get help from parents for half their tuition and students who are in her same situation and pay their own way.
“I am a bit envious that [other students] are getting a little bit of help from parents and I have to work to pay it off,” Tergevorkian said. “At the same time, I don’t see them as not working as hard as I am because school’s hard no matter how expensive it is. I wouldn't say there's ever been a time where I struggled to keep up.”
Jamie-Crane Mauzy, a junior communication major at Westminster, said she doesn't have to worry about paying her way for college.
“I have a scholarship to Westminster, and the rest is covered by a trust fund,” she siad.
Crane-Mauzy skied professionally before attending Westminster but now hits the slopes about three days a week—usually on the weekends.
She said she received a merit-based scholarship to Westminster, which helped her parents with the cost. To earn extra money, she makes public appearances for skiing in Park City.
“I think that my parents helping me out definitely allows me to ski more,” Crane-Mauzy said. “Financially, I would say I’m very lucky I don’t stress about money; money isn’t a factor.”
Crane-Mauzy attended two other colleges before coming to Westminster.
“The reason I decided to come here was because they promote the uniqueness in each person,” Crane-Mauzy said. “It’s not just about the finances; that doesn’t make or break you. What I love about Westminster is that there’s so many different people.”
According to the Equality of Opportunity Project, Westminster ranks 198th—under BYU and above the University of Utah—on the list for colleges that have more students from the top 1 percent than from the bottom 60 percent. At Westminster, 5 percent of the student body are from the top 1 percent and 25.3 percent are from the bottom 60 percent.
The study found that all colleges and universities in Utah had more students from the bottom 60 percent than from the top 1 percent as of 2013.
However, students at Westminster are in the 73rd average income percentile—among the highest in Utah and all selective private colleges.
At Westminster, 24 percent of students have a family income less than $40,000 and receive an income-based federal Pell Grant to help pay for college, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s college scorecard.
Additionally, 62 percent of students at Westminster receive federal loans.
"I think Westminster does a good job at providing as much financial aid as they can," Tergevorkian said. "And not only that, I like that they encourage students to keep applying to a ton of scholarships because like I said, I wouldn't be here without them."
Darlene Dilley, Westminster's director of admissions, said some students from lower-economic backgrounds may think Westminster is out of their reach.
“We do have students and families who do not consider Westminster because they think it’s too expensive,” Dilley said in an email. “Our goal is to heighten awareness and help them realize that we offer great financial aid packages and, for many students and families, it is affordable. This is a focus of our outreach and marketing efforts.”
Students who attend and graduate from Westminster College, regardless of their economic status coming into the college, find themselves among the highest of all selective private colleges who fare better later in life.
This increased mobility rate, meaning students are able to move up two or more income quintiles post- graduation, has placed Westminster in the top 15 percent of all selective private colleges nationwide, according to the New York Times' college data set on Westminster.
"I think my status has definitely grown since I started going to college," Tergevorkian said. " Westminster has prepared me with all the resources, knowledge and skill set that I need to be successful in independent roles in the real world."
She said Westminster has many resources for students to use in preparation for their transition from an academic setting to a business setting, including the Career Center and academic advisers.
"Westminster does put emphasis on caring about each individual student," Tergevorkian said. "I feel prepared for my future and know my investment in a college education here will get me where I want to be."