Colleges Drop the Ball in Aid to Poor Students: Wealthy Institutions Should Do More to Educate Needy Students

By Kepple, Thomas R., Jr. | University Business, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Colleges Drop the Ball in Aid to Poor Students: Wealthy Institutions Should Do More to Educate Needy Students


Kepple, Thomas R., Jr., University Business


Colleges and universities have dropped the ball in aiding lower-income students. According to a report from the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, using data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, up to 140,000 qualified students from low-income families are not attending college simply because they can't afford it. The Century Foundation, according to a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report, found last year that the poorest quarter of the U.S. population comprised only 3 percent of the student bodies at the 146 most selective schools. And recipients of Pell Grants--federal aid targeted to the neediest students--are getting harder to find on wealthy cortege campuses.

Why, when corteges and universities are exceedingly privileged institutions? Our institutions of higher education receive state and federal support either directly or indirectly through financial aid to our students. We're exempt from most taxes. Our benefactors get a tax reduction for their gifts to us.

Historically, this has been a good deal for the country, since our graduates serve as the engine of economic growth. But a close look at the downward trend of aid to needier students indicates we are no longer fulfilling our promise to make higher education accessible to all.

Surprisingly, the wealthiest public and private colleges and universities in the country are under-performing in this area, measuring by the prevalence of Pell Grant recipients. (Typically these are given to students with family incomes below $40,000 per year.)

In 1992, Pell Grants were awarded to 27.5 percent of college students, and the percentage rose to 29.7 in 2002. Yet the percentages of Pelt Grant students at a selected list of wealthy institutions most often declined, and on the average remained well below the average 29.7 percent.

Let's took at the publics first. In the 1992-93 academic year, the University of Michigan gave Pell Grants to 28 percent of its students. Nine years later, in 2001-02, Michigan awarded Pell Grants to 12.5 percent of its students. The University of Wisconsin awarded Pells to 16.7 percent in 1992-93, declining to 11.7 percent almost a decade later. Penn State? It awarded Pells to 22.2 percent of its students in 1992-93 and dropped to 18.7 percent in 2001-02.

Private colleges did somewhat better. …

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