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The beginning of May was the deadline for the last of high-school seniors to make their final decision about where they’re going to college next fall. For some it was a sprint to the finish as they weighed the social and academic fit of campuses still on their list, but also the all-important financial aid offers from colleges.
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Indeed, much attention has been given recently to the struggles of low-income students. Research shows that as family income rises so do the chances of not only going to college but also completing a degree. But as college prices continue to rise faster than the income levels of many Americans, it begs the question: what happens to those families just on the other side of the low-income cutoff for many financial aid programs?
For years, merit aid has helped colleges maintain the middle class on their campuses by giving institutions the flexibility to spread aid around to many students in the form of scholarships, while at the same time pulling in some tuition revenue from those students. But as tuition prices have climbed, colleges found they were discounting their tuition too much and their net tuition revenue—the amount of cash actually received from students or their outside aid—was flat or declining. So they moved their merit aid up the income scale in order to capture students, and more revenue, from higher-income families.
Daniel R. Porterfield, president of Franklin & Marshall College, and a national leader on improving financial aid for low-income students, spoke on the issue.
We need to expand opportunity and aid policies for both Pell students and for middle-income students who are not Pell-eligible.
If colleges don’t begin to also focus on middle-income families, they will end up with campuses bifurcated by income that don’t reflect the economic diversity of the United States.