Public Flagship Universities Fail on Financial Equity

Madeline St. Amour:

Only the relatively wealthiest students can afford to attend most public flagship institutions, according to a new report released last week by the Institute for Higher Education Policy.
The report found that only six of 50 state flagships meet an affordability benchmark for low-income students (see graphic, below).

Mamie Voight, vice president of policy research at IHEP and a co-author of the report, said public institutions funded by taxpayers should better serve low-income students, a demographic that’s growing in overall college enrollments. Flagship universities often have high graduation rates and good post-college outcomes for students, Voight said, making them a good vehicle for social mobility.

But flagships “are not following through on that promise,” she said, because they aren’t providing affordable, accessible education for low- and middle-income students. This results in some students taking out large loans, working long hours while attending school and facing difficulty covering basic needs such as food, all of which can lead to poorer outcomes for the students. Other students may opt for a less expensive college with fewer supports, or forgo college altogether.

The report created five profiles of students using nationally representative data. They include three dependent students who are low-income, middle-income and high-income; and two independent students, one with dependents and one without dependents.
To determine what each student could afford to pay, the report used the “Rule of 10” benchmark from the Lumina Foundation, which says that a family should be able to pay college costs by setting aside 10 percent of discretionary income for 10 years, with the student working 10 hours per week while enrolled.

Related: Ivy League payments and entitlements cost taxpayers $41.59 billion over a six-year period (FY2010-FY2015). This is equivalent to $120,000 in government monies, subsidies, & special tax treatment per undergraduate student, or $6.93 billion per year?.