Undermining Affordability and Access to Higher Education


A recent report from the New America Foundation highlights one important way access to higher education is closing down for low-income students. Even after Pell grants are factored in, the net cost of college for many of these students is still rising at an unacceptable rate.

Factors driving this trend are evident in the recent history of Baylor University, an institution that has “rebranded” itself, improved its ranking in college ratings, and upped the average SAT score of its students.

While more and more scholarship money at Baylor is going to affluent students to attract them, lower-income Pell recipient students are suffering from the effects of this shift: the average net price for Baylor students from families making $30,000 or less is now $21,370.

Unfortunately, as the report details, Baylor is not an outlier.

In fact, at hundreds of colleges, students have to pay at least half their families’ yearly earnings to attend–even after Pell grants and other scholarships.

While the increasing costs for low-income students caused by shifting scholarship money to “merit” programs and away from needs-based programs is most pronounced at private institutions, public colleges and universities, the report emphasizes, are also affected.

At a time when access to higher education is touted as a national goal, we need more honest assessment of the price we pay for failing to provide adequate public funding for higher education; and we need more action to change the national and state priorities driving these trends.

For suggestions on mechanisms to improve funding for higher education, see an earlier series of papers produced by CFHE titled “Funding Higher Education: The Search for Possibilities.”