By John “Hennry” Harris
There is a new trend emerging among public universities. Public universities have shifted their priorities, along with financial aid monies, away from low-income students to wealthier families.
Public colleges and universities were founded and funded to give students in their states access to an affordable college education. These institutions have been vital for students of modest means and instrumental in helping first generation college attendees pay for college.
The U.S. Department of Education shows that from 1996 through 2012, public colleges and universities have given a declining number of grants to the student in the lowest quartile of family income (measured both in actual number of grants as well as dollar amounts).
This trend seems especially counterproductive as America continues to fight through the latest recession as these are the families that were hit the hard-est.
Why would public universities shift their aid from low-in-come students?
“For some schools, they’re trying to climb to the top of the rankings. For other schools, it’s more about revenue generation,” said Don Hossler, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington.
It is no secret that many publicly funded institutions have been battered by state funding cuts and are chasing prestige through achieving higher ranking.
For this to happen, schools must use their aid to draw weal-thier students – especially out of state students, who will pay higher tuition – or higher-achieving students, who will give the colleges a boost in rankings with their scores.
Private colleges have used aggressive tactics like this for some time and public colleges have resorted to “financial-aid leveraging.” For instance, instead of offering $15,000 to a needy student, a school would choose to leverage its aid by giving that $15,000 to four or five less needy students with high SAT scores, ultimately bringing in more tuition dollars than the needy student.
“The most needy students are getting squeezed out,” said Charles Reed, a former chancellor of the California State University system and of the State University System of Florida. “Need-based aid is extremely important to these students and their parents.”
More low-income students are now choosing to go to com-munity colleges and for-profit institutions to achieve their educational goals.
No data is available for the number of needy students who have been squeezed out but it is clear that the number of needy students is on the rise and state schools have not kept up.