Based on some concerning facts and studies, financial aid is no longer about helping students pay for college, but rather a strategy used to attract students they want, admit the students they need and encourage others to stay away.
A study on the distribution of Pell Grant recipients by dependency status and based on 2010 data conducted by The College Board found that Federal grants overwhelmingly go to poor students while scholarships and grants that are offered by colleges account for only 19 percent of all financial aid.
“In 2011 to 2012, just over half of all Pell Grant recipients in public and private nonprofit four-year institutions were dependent students, compared to 37 percent of recipients in public two-year colleges and 19 percent in the for-profit sector,” the study stated.
Meaning that colleges are more likely to distribute $30,000 among five students ($6,000 each) who can afford to pay the remaining balance, rather than covering the full cost for one low-income student.
This cannot be considered a fair process, because students who work hard to obtain a higher education are left behind because of their financial situation. This practice provides preferential treatment to those who are able to pay the price tag of attending a university. Those who cannot, even though they might be academically superior, are left out.
Private colleges and universities created grants and financial aid that would potentially boost rankings and attract wealthy students, and due to shrinking state budgets, public universities are likely to do the same thing. Of the 1,600 private non-profit colleges in the United Sates, very few admit students without considering family income, according to Vox Media.
Last year George Washington University (GW) caused an uproar when they admitted to lying about taking students’ needs into account during admissions.
The university claimed to have a “need-blind” admission policy, but in-fact gave preference to wealthier students in the final stages of the admission process and placed academically comparable students on the waitlist. After receiving much criticism, GW changed the wording on their website from “need-blind” to “need-aware”.
“I believe using the phrase ‘need-aware’ better represents the totality of our practices than using the phrase ‘need blind,’” Laurie Koehler, senior associate provost for enrollment management, said in a statement to ProPublica. “What we are trying to do is increase the transparency of the admissions process.”
While GW has publicized that they’re trying to “diversify” and “trying to buck its ‘rich-kid reputation’” according to a Washington Post article, but there is a concern that while more private universities become accustomed to this practice, so will public universities, shifting priorities and potentially leaving low-income students behind.
Admitting your university takes financial circumstances into consideration during the admission process doesn’t seem to be very fair or just. It doesn’t seem like the best way to add diversity to a campus and instead limits the potential for diversity. It makes certain universities sound like clubs for the rich and lucky rather than institutions of higher learning and equal opportunities.
The majority of students at GW pay less than the $58,000 per year for tuition and housing due in large part to the university’s strategy of offering grants as discounts. But even after grants are applied, low-income students who come from families making $30,000 or less still pay about $21,000 to attend the university.
There is much debate about the ethics of this process and can it even be fair to take potential students’ financial circumstances into consideration. Universities advertise that they will help you pay for the Cost of Attendance (COA) but that be just a public relations stunt that attracts certain students and draws others away. Colleges and universities put up a facade that they are interested in students’ potential and not their ability to pay and are willing to help you in whatever ways possible to ensure graduation.
More colleges are offering financial aid “packages” that include grants, which don’t have to be paid back and loans, which do have to be paid back, covering the price between tuition and what a family will contributes. But federal loans, which have to paid back with interest, are the largest share of financial aid and account for $101.5 billion of aid annually, according to College Boards: Trends in Student Aid 2013 study.
After all that, colleges still do not promise to meet a student’s full financial need, causing students to borrow even more money.
“The average graduate who took out loans (and 7 out of 10 do) and graduated in 2012 borrowed $29,400 for a bachelor’s degree,” according to research by Vox Media about student debt.
There are many factors that have contributed to increasing tuition, but the biggest reason is students are paying a greater share of the costs at public universities because states are subsidizing public education less.
It is an unknown fact that there has been a decline in grants to low-income students. In 1996, students in the lowest quartile of income received about 34 percent of institutional grants and in 2012 the same students only received about 25 percent of those grants, according to a ProPublica analysis of new data from the U.S. Department of Education.
Universities offer small scholarships meant to attract students who can afford to pay the rest, according to Stephen Burd, from the New America Foundation, who studied the growth of merit aid at the expense of need-based aid.
“In a lot of cases, they are trying to get full-pay students,” Burd said in an article by Vox Media, calling the practice “affirmative action for the rich.”
The opportunity to pursue a higher education should be available to all and in no way should a potential student’s financial situation be a factor in the decision of who can be admitted. Everyone deserves an equal opportunity in the admission process, where colleges and universities assess the academics of a student and the diversity they will bring to the campus. The financial capability of a student should play no role in admitting academically competent students.