NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Financial aid, at its best, allows disadvantaged students access to educational opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable due to prohibitively high costs. But a survey suggests colleges increasingly steer clear of these needier students, instead giving preference to those who would be able to pay tuition without financial aid.
The disturbing news comes from a survey of 462 college admissions officers conducted by the online publication Inside Higher Ed. More than a third of admissions officers surveyed reported that their institution had increased its focus on recruiting “full-pay” students, or those who won’t require financial aid. And the admissions strategy judged most important by admissions officers – especially those at public schools – was to recruit more out-of-state students who pay higher fees than locals at public institutions.
That’s not to say universities are getting greedy; rather that they’re facing tough economic decisions like most people and organizations struggling to survive in a slow economy, and are having to change the way they do business to keep afloat.
“The interest in full-pay students is so strong that 10% of four-year colleges report that the full-pay students they are admitting have lower grades and test scores than do other admitted applicants,” Inside Higher Ed reports. And a quarter of admissions officers said they’d felt pressure from a trustee or higher-ranking administrator to admit certain applicants.
Previous surveys conducted by the publication found that universities are increasing their aid budgets in response to trying financial times, and many have increased their discount rate – that is, how much financial aid is granted to those who need it. But the schools also say this discount-rate increase is unsustainable given the institutions’ finances. The solution preferred by the colleges, it seems, is to admit fewer students who actually need financial aid and thereby stay within a tighter budget.
The result is that colleges admit increasing numbers of less-qualified students who can pay their own way and turn away qualified applicants who can’t.
It’s a state of affairs poised to hurt those most in need of a college education. Studies have shown that education remains the single biggest factor in determining a worker’s ultimate earning potential, and that children raised in middle-class families – unlikely to be able to afford the sky-high-and-rising tuition at many schools – are much more likely to drop out of the middle class if they don’t go to college.
Obviously colleges, particularly public ones, are feeling the economic pinch like everyone else. But if their solution is to get in the habit of turning away poor kids while recruiting the lucky few who can afford college, the already huge gap between rich and poor will only become larger in the long run.
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