A recently released report found that private colleges are keeping the poor in debt while giving wealthier students a leg up with “merit” aid. The reasoning behind the policies that have resulted in this imbalance is somewhat...
A recently released report found that private colleges are keeping the poor in debt while giving wealthier students a leg up with “merit” aid. The reasoning behind the policies that have resulted in this imbalance is somewhat counterintuitive: the economy. So, if you’re a poor student paying top dollar to attend a secondary institution, you’re not alone—and your wealthier classmates might be going on the cheap.
Campus Progress reports that a recent report from the New America Foundation, a nonprofit public policy institute, noted an increase in merit aid awarded to wealthy students and a decrease in financial aid to low-income students at public and private colleges. According to the report, colleges and universities lure wealthy students who can afford to pay nearly full tuition at the expense of aid to low-income students.
“[C]olleges are not just looking for the best and brightest students,” said the report. “They are also working hard to bring wealthy students to their campuses in order to maximize their revenue.”
Colleges have always awarded merit aid, but the upward swing is notable.
In the 1995-1996 school year, 24 percent of students at private institutions received merit aid, while 43 percent received need-based aid.
Compare that to the 2007-2008 school year, in which 44 percent of students received merit aid and 42 percent of students received need-based aid, and the higher education industry’s shift in priorities becomes clear.
Low-income students at two-thirds of private universities surveyed were charged up to half of their family’s yearly income in tuition, the report found. That equals a “net price,” or the amount of tuition students pay after an institution’s aid has been distributed, of over $15,000 a year.
“In many cases,” the report said, “these institutions are trying to lure in top students who will help them improve their standing in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings so they can enhance their reputations and marketability.”
George Washington University and Boston University both scaled up their recruiting efforts of wealthy or desirable students over the past few decades, leaving low-income students to foot the bill. Campus Progress interviewed one such student, Garineh Panosian, a Boston University senior.
“I’ve had a pretty terrible experience with the financial aid here,” Panosian told Campus Progress in an email. “My family’s combined income puts us in the lower middle class bracket and BU barely gave me a quarter off the tuition.”
Despite the President Obama’s goal for the U.S. to have the world’s highest proportion of graduates by 2020, the outlook for low-income students at these universities seems bleak.
Needy students denied aid who decide to take on debt for their education often end up having to work during school, making graduation in four years less likely, said the report. Their debt adds to economic stress, increases the chances that they will rely on social welfare programs, and promotes the cycle of poverty and the education gap.
Panosian, who plans to finish her degree requirements at another institution, said BU not only skimped on financial aid, but also charged her late fees when she had trouble with her bank. She said she now realizes the lack of support in higher education isn’t universal.
“Had I known another institution would’ve paid for full or even half, I would’ve gone there, but hindsight is 20/20,” Panosian said. “That was a very expensive decision, and I don’t know if I still stand by it.”
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