Growing up in an immigrant community and single-parent household, finances were always a topic of conversation. At Wharton, it’s on my mind but rarely discussed.
As new immigrants, my mom and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment—and sublet that bedroom to a graduate student—living for years in a cramped living room. Every grocery run and mall outing was a quest to spend as little as possible.
When I got into Yale, my mom was initially horrified. The base tuition exceeded her salary. Thankfully, need-based financial aid allowed me to attend Yale among students from both modest and enormously privileged backgrounds. For me, education was the ultimate socioeconomic leveller.
At Wharton, it doesn’t always feel that way. Sky-high tuition without need-based financial aid is a real barrier to socioeconomic diversity. But the bigger problem is that, once at Wharton, there is still a divide.
Leadership Ventures, Global Immersion Programs and Global Modular Programs seem to be an important part of a Wharton education—their benefits have been extolled since Welcome Weekend. But with program fees of $3,000-$6,750, plus travel and equipment costs adding up to $5,000-$10,000, they are hardly accessible to all. Students with lower economic means are much less likely to opt in.
Then there is Student Life. Building a social network is critical to an MBA, but opportunities to do so are stacked against those with less. According to WGA, the average student joins 10 clubs. With Pub, this means a student spends ~$1,000 a year on club memberships alone. Parties and events can cost an additional $50-80 a night.
In talking to other students for this article, the list is endless: professional clubs that hold job opportunities but charge membership fees, career treks, student led treks, and so on. Students on a budget have to frequently make trade-offs between prudency and “priceless” MBA experiences.
And just because it is this way at other business schools (which it is) doesn’t mean it is okay. While there are no easy answers, I would love to start a conversation on how to build a more financially inclusive community.
For the administration, need-based financial aid could be a real way that Wharton distinguishes itself and creates a truly diverse educational experience. The loan forgiveness program needs to be strengthened. The Leadership Office should set up funding for Leadership Ventures, GIPs, and GMCs. The Career Office should help pay the fees of professional clubs and career treks. There should be membership and ticket price ceilings for WGA clubs and events.
Ultimately, lack of financial inclusivity doesn’t only hurt the financially strapped student, it hurts the whole community. It creates self-segregation between students who opt-in to pricey activities and students who can’t. It creates a culture of materialism and disconnect that breeds many of the criticisms that business school graduates face today. My personal fear is that it encourages pursuit of income rather than of ideas, diminishing the impact Wharton leaders could have on the world through entrepreneurship and public service.
How the Wharton community operates is good business, but is it good education? I’d argue a more financially inclusive Wharton is a better Wharton for us all.