The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

New Report Finds College Financial Aid Not Going to Neediest Students

Feature Story by Tyler Lewis - 9/6/2006

As the cost of higher education continues to rise, have our nation's colleges and universities really "retreated" from the commitment to giving every student equal opportunity to attend college, regardless of how much money their parents make?

According to a new report by Education Trust, a Washington-based non-profit, they have.

Promise Abandoned: How Policy Choices and Institutional Practices Restrict College Opportunities documents that colleges and universities are increasingly using their resources to compete with one another for "high-scoring" wealthy students at the expense of accepting qualified students from low-income families.

The report also found that insufficient federal funding and state expenditures on need-based financial aid have contributed to the trend away from aid for low-income students. "Over the last ten years, institutional financial aid decisions have disadvantaged low-income students even more than the shifts in federal and state programs that have garnered more attention," said Education Trust, in a statement.

College grants to students from families with incomes of more than $100,000 have increased at a faster rate than grants to students from families with incomes of less than $20,000 from 1995 to 2003, according to the new report. Similarly, high-achieving students from the lowest-income families are attending college at the same rate as the lowest-achieving students from the wealthiest families.

In addition, the report found that colleges and universities are using a set of techniques called "enrollment management", which includes tuition discounting, financial aid leverage, data mining, to create a student population that will enhance their prestige and rank in college guides. "Enrollment management" is also used to "shield" middle- and upper-class students reluctant to pay full price of tuition from the financial burden of the ever-escalating cost of higher education.

"These policies undermine the notion of the American dream - no matter how hard these students work, and no matter how high they achieve in high school, they still may not be able to afford college," said Ross Wiener, Education Trust policy director. "It is simply unconscionable that leaders in both government and higher education are sending precious aid money to students from wealthy families while young people from poor families are shut out."

As a result, the report asserts that this trend has resulted in a student body that lack the diversity that exists in society at large. Despite the fact that the number of Black and Latino high school graduates has increased by more than 50 percent since 1974, college-going rates for both groups has not increased at the same rate as Whites.

"When our nation's four-year colleges look more like bastions of privilege than engines of opportunity, we pay a serious national price," said Kati Haycock, director of The Education Trust and report author. "Today, our country not only has less economic mobility than we did 20 years ago, but we have less than in most other developed countries."

Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said the study has troubling implications for minorities as well. "Education has long been seen by the nation's disadvantaged as the way to access the best of what this nation has to offer," said Henderson. "These policies disproportionately affect low-income minorities in a negative way. What then is the message being sent to them about the opportunity to achieve their goals?"

The report also examines graduation rates, inadequate high schools, and calls for renewed efforts, at all levels of government and within institutions of higher learning, to improve undergraduate student success.

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