This summer, the Supreme Court is again hearing arguments against race-based affirmative action. While this issue continues to be contested, some have proposed income-based admissions as an alternative.

In June, surveyed 1,095 Americans aged 18 and up to find out how many would support a college admissions system that takes into account the applicant’s socioeconomic status.

The results:

  • 1 in 3 Americans support income-based admissions
  • 57% believe poor students have a more challenging time achieving high test scores
  • Democrats, younger Americans more likely to support income-based admissions

Americans More Likely to Support Income-Based than Race-Based Admissions

Nearly 4 in 10 survey respondents ‘strongly’ (14%) or ‘somewhat agree’ (22%) that an applicant’s socioeconomic status should be considered in the college admissions process. Only 1 in 4 ‘strongly’ (9%) or ‘somewhat agree’ (14%) that an applicant’s race or ethnicity should be considered.

Of those who do not believe that an applicant’s socioeconomic status should be considered, write-in responses included the following:

  • “What should be considered is what you’ve achieved so far in school and personally, socioeconomic status has nothing to do with anything.”
  • “I believe admissions should be based on achievement.”
  • “For financial aid, yes, socioeconomic status should be considered, but admissions should be offered based on academic performance.”

Among respondents who agree with income-based admissions, write-in responses included:

  • “Merit should always come first. But if a student is working toward bettering their economic situation, their finances should not prevent them from going to college.”
  • “I firmly believe if someone truly wants an education, they should be able to get one regardless of their ability to pay.”
  • “Because low-income students should have the right to go to college also.”

Please note that all write-in responses have been edited for clarity.

“I believe income-based college admissions would be an effective way to ensure greater access to higher education for students of all backgrounds,” says Dave Conway, Co-Founder of EcoMotionCentral.

“Low-income students often face significant financial barriers to attending college, and income-based admissions could help to reduce the impact of these barriers.

“Additionally, income-based admissions could help to improve economic diversity on college campuses, creating a more equitable learning environment for all students. On the other hand, income-based admissions could also create an environment of competition between students of different backgrounds, which could lead to further inequality in higher education. Ultimately, I believe that income-based admissions could be a valuable tool in creating greater access to higher education, but it should be applied with caution and consideration of its potential implications,” Conway explains.

Majority of Supporters Favor an Income-Based Quota System

Of respondents who agree with income-based admissions, 68% ‘strongly’ (32%) or ‘somewhat agree’ (37%) that colleges should implement a quota system. Within this system, colleges would be required to accept a certain percentage of economically-disadvantaged applicants each year.

More Than Half Believe it is Harder for Poor Students to Achieve High Test Scores

Fifty-seven percent of respondents ‘strongly’ (21%) or ‘somewhat agree’ (35%) that applicants from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds have a more challenging time achieving high test scores.

Jenny Chan, Co-Founder of Pacific Atrocities Education, offers her opinion on income-based education.

“As the debate surrounding affirmative action reignites in the U.S. Supreme Court, income-based college admissions have emerged as a potential alternative to race-based admissions. While this approach may seem appealing on the surface, it is important to consider its potential drawbacks and limitations,” Chan says.

“One key concern is that using income alone as a basis for admission could perpetuate existing socioeconomic disparities, both within and between racial groups. Additionally, defining what constitutes ‘low-income’ can be complex and subjective, making it difficult to implement such policies fairly and effectively across diverse student populations. Ultimately, while I believe that addressing issues of access and equity in higher education is crucially important, I am hesitant to fully endorse an income-based approach without careful consideration of these complexities and potential unintended consequences,” Chan finishes.

Democrats, Younger Americans more Likely to Support Income-Based Admissions

Forty-four percent of respondents who identified as Democrats ‘strongly’ (16%) or ‘somewhat agree’ (28%) with income-based admissions vs. 29% of respondents who identified as Republicans, of which 11% ‘strongly’ and 18% ‘somewhat agree’ with income-based admissions.

Younger Americans were also more likely to support income-based admissions over older Americans. Among respondents aged 18-24, 46% ‘strongly’ (17%) or ‘somewhat agree’ (29%) with this idea vs. just 29% of those aged 65+, of whom 4% ‘strongly’ and 25% ‘somewhat agree’ with income-based admissions.

“If the problem is to help more minority students attend top colleges, such as those involved in the case before the Supreme Court, then having income based admissions does not really help solve that problem,” says Jack Wang, College Financial Aid Advisor at Innovative Advisory Group.

“Race-based admissions is generally a ‘problem’ associated with top colleges. After all, HBCUs get plenty of African American applicants. The issue, in my opinion, is not admitting more students. It’s getting more qualified applicants to apply to those top colleges.

“There are many studies that show college attainment is lower for students of color and resources for top academic achievement are often fewer than those available for white families. Also, the unfortunate truth is that families of color generally have fewer financial resources. High college sticker prices lead families – regardless of race – to not apply to top schools thinking that even if the student gets accepted, the family couldn’t afford it anyway.

“Thus, if the goal is to have a broadly diversified student body at top colleges, I believe that more effort should be offered to help students from lower socioeconomic levels obtain academic achievement and build awareness that they should apply and could get a lot of aid to make the college affordable.

“Colleges can’t admit more qualified students of color if they don’t apply to begin with!” emphasizes Wang.


This online poll was commissioned by and conducted by SurveyMonkey beginning June 14, 2023. Respondents consist of a national sample of 1,095 Americans aged 18 and older.

Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Learn more about SurveyMonkey’s methodology or contact [email protected] for more information.