- Access to College for Low-Income, Minority Students in New England Is At Risk
- “Convergence” Examines Trends Threatening College Opportunity, Calls for Action
Washington, D.C., April 1, 2006—A new report warns that the New England region faces a convergence of trends similar to those at the national level, with potentially serious negative consequences on higher education opportunity for low income, minority, and other underserved populations. Declining grant aid, changing demographics, competition among colleges, and other factors will collide, according to the report, leading to diminished college participation for the nation’s fastest growing and most disadvantaged groups. In addition, New England faces unique circumstances that influence how these trends will impact opportunity.
The report, Convergence: Trends Threatening to Narrow College Opportunity in America, produced by the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington, DC, and funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, predicts that the coming decade will see more financial aid flowing to upper income students and families; financial aid becoming less effective against rising tuitions; and those entering higher education being forced to take on more debt. The authors contend that without a comprehensive and coordinated plan of action, the consequences for the New England region could be profound.
A concerted public-private partnership involving the federal government, states, colleges and universities, students and parents, and the private sector will be required to counter the convergence of these trends, according to the report. This partnership would function as a standing committee of business leaders, college and university presidents, policymakers, and students joined together in a campaign to create sustained discussion and action about college opportunity. This new partnership could provide the leadership necessary to confront the difficult decisions that must be made to avoid a reversal of college opportunity.
The report includes a companion piece that focuses on New England. The states in the region—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont—face distinct higher education challenges given regional characteristics.
- While New Englanders have higher median salaries than the nation as a whole ($60,512 compared to $53,699), the prices for many goods and services (including housing and college tuition) also are higher.
- In 2005-06, overall tuition and fees at New England’s colleges and universities were the most expensive in the country.
- More than half (54%) of postsecondary institutions in New England are private four-year institutions.
- While other regions of the country are gearing up for population and enrollment growth in the coming decade, according to recent projections, the number of public high school graduates in New England will peak in 2008 and then decline. At the same time, New England will experience the same trends occurring at the national level.
- Federal, state, and institutional support increasingly shifting toward academically based aid and away from the students with the most financial need.
- Early intervention and awareness programs that target low-income and first-generation students and are critical to college access are being threatened with elimination or budget cuts.
- Public colleges relying more on tuition as a means of keeping up with increasing institutional expenditures and declining state revenues.
- Colleges using institutional aid to compete for students, usually middle- and upper-income.
Jamie Merisotis, President of the Institute for Higher Education Policy said, “Until now, these previously identified trends have been discussed largely in isolation. However, we found that when taken together, the convergence and interaction among them has a much greater impact than each separately might suggest. Our goal is to make it clear that the train wreck of declining opportunity is coming, and that action needs to be taken now by a broad coalition of partners in order to achieve the widest possible participation in higher education.”
“While the nation has made strides in accelerating college participation of low-income and minority students, this report documents the trends that, if not reversed, will undermine that progress,” added Blenda J. Wilson, President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
The authors offer several recommendations to slow or impede the convergence, including:
- Limit tuition increases at each state’s public institutions to that state’s average increase in family income.
- Increase need-based aid programs to make full awards available to all eligible students.
- Continue to maintain a large majority of state financial aid programs as need-based.
- If states have academically based aid programs, ensure that those programs are sustainable, and target the intended populations by employing income caps, prohibiting the replacement of state aid with Pell Grant dollars, and ensuring that programs are well publicized.
- Implement programs to reward public institutions that perform well in attracting and retaining low-income students and students of color.
- Shift the balance of institutional financial aid to assist those who are otherwise qualified but lack the financial resources to attend college.
- Encourage private sector investment in need-based student aid, and tie privately funded scholarships and other programs to early intervention initiatives that create a seamless support system from K-12 to the attainment of a postsecondary degree.