National Partnership for Educational Access RESEARCH BRIEF

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1 National Partnership for Educational Access RESEARCH BRIEF PRICED OUT: HOW THE WRONG FINANCIAL AID POLICIES HURT LOW INCOME STUDENTS Jamie Lynch, Jennifer Engle, and Jose L. Cruz The Education Trust November 23, 2011

2 Priced Out: How the Wrong Financial Aid Policies Hurt Low Income Students Jamie Lynch, Jennifer Engle, and Jose L. Cruz The Education Trust The cost of college and university attendance is growing rapidly in the United States. Since the early 1980 s, postsecondary education costs have grown at four times the rate of inflation. This is in contrast to income levels: while those in the highest income bracket have experienced a 73 percent increase in earning, those in the lowest income bracket have experienced a seven percent decrease in earnings over the last 30 years. As a result, families in the lower income level are required to pay an increasingly larger percentage of their annual income to cover the cost of a college education. Priced Out: How the Wrong Financial-Aid Policies Hurt Low Income Students, a recent publication from The Education Trust, presents new data on the net price of college education for those in the lowest income brackets. Pulling from a sample of 1,186 four-year colleges and universities with comparable data, the researchers assess the cost of a college education, highlighting those schools and policies that do the most to help, and hurt, low-income students in obtaining a college education. 1 In 2010, the United States Department of Education collected net price data for the first time, allowing for a thorough analysis of the full cost of a college education. Reported by all colleges and universities that participate in federal Title IV financial-aid programs, net price data provides the amount of money, after all forms of federal, state, and institutional grant aid are accounted for, a student must contribute toward his or her post-secondary education. 1 Drawing from these data, the researchers conducted analyses to determine the average cost of college attendance for dependent students from low-income families (those earning $30,000 or less a year). On average, after exhausting all available sources of grant aid, students from low-income families are required to pay more than $11,000 per year to attend a public or private nonprofit college. Relative to overall income, this amounts to upwards of nearly three-quarters of the family income for one child to attend one year of a four-year college. In comparison, middle-class students must finance on average 27 percent of their family income, while high-income students must finance just 14 percent. Based on this information, the researchers examined institutions that do a better job than others at managing the unmet financial need of their students. To do so, they established three criteria by which to judge the institutions. First, they determined low-income students should be expected to contribute the same proportion of their family s total income as middle-income 1 All net price data is available online from College Navigator (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/) and College Results Online (http://www.collegeresults.org). Both these sites allow users to search and compare institutions.

3 families. That is, 27 percent, or $4,600 per year. Second, in terms of the quality of the education, the researchers looked for schools that have graduation rates of at least 50 percent. Finally, the researchers assessed the institution s commitment to serving low-income students by measuring whether it enrolls a student body that is at least equal to the national average of 30 percent. In terms of the first criterion, institutions in which low-income students are expected to pay an average of 27 percent of their family income, only 55 publics, 10 private nonprofits, and no for-profits have a net price below $4,600. Surprisingly, some 275 institutions have net prices that exceed 100 percent of a low-income student s annual income. Of these 65 institutions, only public and ten private-graduate at least 50 percent of all students. Unfortunately, only five of these institutions meet the third criterion of enrolling a student body at least 30 percent of which is lowincome: the California State University-Fullerton, California State University-Long Beach, CUNY Bernard M. Barauch College, CUNY Queens College, and University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Taken as a whole, this represents only.4 percent of the 1,186 four-year colleges and universities with comparable net price data. After determining only five institutions met the criteria for affordability, the researchers investigated the prices at the other universities and why they did not meet the criteria. Many of the elite private institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton, keep net prices relatively low ($2,170, $3,120, and $3,110, respectively), but fall short in that they enroll a relatively small number of low-income students (13 percent, 15 percent, and 10 percent, respectively). For most other private nonprofit institutions, graduation rates are high, but the net price is high and percent of low-income students low. Turning to public flagship universities, the researchers found the overall representation of lowincome students enrolled has decreased steadily in the past two decades, with 7,000 fewer lowincome students being served in 2007 than in As for cost, only five charge net prices below $4,600 for low-income students: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ($2,366), Louisiana State University ($3,079), University of Florida ($3,188), Indiana University at Bloomington ($3,383), and University of Virginia ($3,904). In spite of the relative affordability, none of these schools enroll low-income students at or above the national average of 30 percent. Indeed, each of these flagships enrolls fewer low-income students than the other public universities in their states. 2 Surprisingly, the researchers found an additional five public flagships that have net prices of more than $11,600 per year: University of Washington ($11,661), Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus ($14,460), Rutgers University-New Brunswick ($14,572), The University of Alabama ($15,216), and University of South Carolina-Columbia ($15,578). In ten states, the top-ranked private university has a lower net price for low-income students than the public flagship, drawing into question the flagships missions to serve the states residents (see Table 1).

4 Table 1. States in which top private university net price is less than the public flagship university. State Public Flagship Top Private University in the State MA University of Massachusetts Amherst ($7,072) Harvard University ($2,170) CA University of California Berkeley ($8,170) Stanford University ($3,3120) TX The University of Texas at Austin ($8,184) Rice University ($3,008) NY SUNY College at Buffalo ($8,711) Columbia University ($4,870) UT University of Utah ($10,182) Brigham Young University ($7,247) NH University of New Hampshire-Main Campus ($10,606) Dartmouth College ($4,007) TN The University of Tennessee ($10,724) Vanderbilt University ($3,099) PA Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus ($14,460) University of Pennsylvania ($6,704) NJ Rutgers University-New Brunswick ($14,572) Princeton University ($3,110) AL The University of Alabama ($15,216) Samford University ($12,825) *Note: Except for SUNY College at Buffalo, each of these universities and colleges enrolls less than 30 percent of low-income students. In each case, the flagship university enrolls the same percentage or fewer low-income students than the private. SUNY College at Buffalo enrolls 40 percent low-income students versus 13 percent for Columbia University. In conclusion, the researchers highlight an alarming statistic: while 82 percent of Americans from the highest income quartile have a bachelor s degree by age 24, only eight percent of those from the bottom quartile do so. The researchers suggest three important questions for policy makers to consider when determining higher education finance policies: 3 1. Will the policy primarily benefit low-income students, or will a significant portion of the financial aid go to high-income students? 2. Will program implementation allow low-income students full access to financial assistance, or do technical barriers stand in the way? 3. Are the financial awards large enough to influence the choices and success rates of low-income students? This research brief summarizes work published in Priced Out: How the Wrong Financial Aid Policies Hurt Low Income Students by Jamie Lynch, Jennifer Engle, and Jose L. Cruz of the Education Trust. This summary is intended for educational and informational purposes as a service to members of the National Partnership for Educational Access. All content in this brief is attributed to the authors. The National Partnership for Educational Access is an initiative of The Steppingstone Foundation. The views expressed in this brief do not necessarily reflect those of the National Partnership for Educational Access, its members, or The Steppingstone Foundation. A copy of this brief, including full bibliographic citations, is available from The Education Trust.

5 About The National Partnership for Educational Access NPEA is a membership association that supports the quality, success, and growth of organizations working to expand educational opportunities for traditionally underrepresented students across the United States. Through professional development, collaboration, and the dissemination of best practices, NPEA is working toward the day when all students have equal access to high-quality education and opportunities for college and beyond. NPEA is unique in two ways: first, our members serve students all along the continuum of grades, beginning in early elementary through high school and college. Second, the diverse membership provides a forum for sharing different perspectives and ideas in order to bolster the field of college access and close the achievement gap that prevents so many children from realizing the benefits of a college degree. 4 Lack of academic preparation, limited understanding of the complex college admission and financial aid application processes, and rising tuition costs combine to keep millions of capable yet underserved students locked out of the opportunities provided by a college education; at the same time, the demand for a collegeeducated workforce continues to grow. While many organizations exist to increase opportunities for traditionally underrepresented students, they often work in isolation, struggling with challenges that a program on the other side of the country or even around the corner has already solved. By bringing organizations together to build connections and share lessons learned, NPEA is strengthening the pipeline to college on a local and national scale.

6 NPEA is an initiative of The Steppingstone Foundation 155 Federal Street, Suite 800 Boston, MA (617) / F: (617)

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