How Poor And Minority Students Are Shortchanged By Public Universities

Molly Hensley-Clancy:

In the pursuit of prestige, revenue, and rankings, more public universities have turned to dangling merit-based scholarships to attract more out-of-state students, according to a report by the New America Foundation released earlier this week. The result: shortchanging both poor students, who are less likely to receive such aid, and students in the states the universities are funded to serve.

Public colleges once devoted the biggest chunk of their financial aid money, some 34%, to students in the bottom income quartile, giving just 16% to the wealthiest students, the report says. That has now shifted dramatically: Financial aid at public colleges now goes equally to the top and bottom quartile of students, with wealthy students receiving 23% of financial aid. The poorest students now receive only 25%.

The push toward funneling aid to privileged out-of-state students reflects a change in the nature of public higher education. “By bringing in more and more wealthy nonresident students, these colleges are increasingly becoming bastions of privilege,” the report says.

Schools that provide merit aid, it found, tend to enroll far more students from out of state, who typically pick up more merit-based scholarships than in-state students. They also tend to enroll fewer poor students — and charge those poor students more money.