- Access to College for Low-Income, Minority Students Could Get Worse
- “Convergence” examines trends threatening college opportunity, calls for action
Washington, D.C., April 1, 2006—A new report warns that a diverse array of factors at the federal, state, and institutional levels are likely to converge in the coming decade 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.
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 on the nation’s economic, social, and cultural well-being could be profound, leaving the United States less prepared to compete in the global economy.
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, dubbed the National Dialogue on College Opportunity, 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. The partnership would build on the successful model of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, which was established more than three decades ago and provided a framework to guide decisions by each of these stakeholders. This new partnership could provide the leadership necessary to confront the difficult decisions that must be made to avoid a reversal of college opportunity.
Key findings in the report include:
- Federal, state, and institutional support is 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 are critical to college access but have been threatened with elimination or budget cuts.
- Public colleges are relying more on tuition as a means of keeping up with increasing institutional expenditures and declining state revenues.
- Colleges are using institutional aid to compete for students, usually middle- and upper-income.
- Low-income and students of color will make up a significantly greater proportion of the college student population in the coming decade.
The report illustrates the trends and emphasizes the cumulative impact. For example, greater demand on institutions for more goods and services raises institutional spending; when state appropriations to public institutions cannot keep up, tuition goes up; and within the context of decreasing need-based aid and support of intervention programs that reach out to low-income students and students of color, the trends pose a substantial threat to access and persistence.
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:
- Limiting tuition increases at public institutions to a state’s average increase in family income.
- Maintaining a large majority of federal, state, and institutional aid programs as need-based.
- Implementing a prestigious, competitive grant program to reward institutions that perform well in attracting and retaining low-income students and students of color.
- Redirecting the federal tax funds currently forgone through the Hope Scholarship tax credit, and using those resources to significantly increase Pell Grants for students with financial need.
- Encouraging private sector investment in need-based student aid through the federal Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) Program.