Even as the nation launches sweeping reforms to get kids ready
for college, new trends signal that hundreds of thousands who make
the grade won't be able to afford to go.
This trend is hitting middle-income families, as well as the
poorest first-generation immigrants. It's not inevitable. But, for
now, it's only getting worse.
Here's the pattern: Rising college tuition, which has outpaced
inflation since the 1980s. Less need-based student aid to pay it.
And record levels of personal debt at the end of it. For many
families, a college education is a bridge too far.
Nearly half of all qualified low- and moderate-income high school
graduates couldn't attend a four-year college this year. By 2010,
that will add up to 4.4 million students, according to a report
released Wednesday by a Congress-appointed commission on financial
aid in America.
Several studies in recent years have raised alarms about how
inaccessible college is becoming, but none as emphatically as this
one, which for the first time looks both at financial data and
information about student academic preparedness.
For a nation that in 1965 committed to the promise that no
student should be turned away from higher education because they
can't pay for it, it's a sobering conclusion.
Moreover, it comes at a time when most states face budget
deficits they are resolving in part by further cutbacks in higher
education. This was the response of state legislatures to the most
recent recessions in the early 1980s and 1990s. But today's budget
decreases - and double-digit tuition increases at some state
colleges and universities in recent months - are making access an
even more remote prospect for many students.
Budget cuts for colleges
"The trend is to cut budgets for higher education and increase
tuition. We're looking at another famine in higher education," says
Marga Torrence, a policy analyst at the Denver-based Education
Commission of the States.
Midyear budget cuts in Wisconsin even prompted a freeze of
admissions at state universities, after which the legislature
proposed cutting another $44 million in higher education funding.
The new report, released by the Advisory Committee on Student
Financial Assistance, finds that the students being shut out of
higher education aren't just kids in lower-income brackets. They are
also students who have done the right things to get ready for
college: They have taken college preparatory courses, graduated near
the top half of their classes, maintained an acceptable grade-point
average and SAT scores. …