Congressional Panel Tracks Income Gap In College AttendanceA new report from a congressional advisory panel paints a bleak picture of college access for low- and middle-income high school students with a strong record of academic achievement.
Nearly half of these high school graduates in 2002 — or 400,000 youth — will not go to public four-year colleges and universities because of cost considerations, says the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. Some of these youth will opt for lower-cost community colleges, but 170,000 will attend no college at all, says the committee’s report, “Empty Promises: The Myth of College Access in America.”
Over a 10-year period, more than 4 million of these students will choose not to attend a four-year institution, while 2 million may opt for no college education at all.
“For these students, the promise of a college education is an empty one,” the committee says, and the loss of human development and capital “will exact a serious economic and social toll for much of this century.” The committee’s 11 members include Henry Givens, president of Harris-Stowe State College, a historically Black college in St. Louis.
The committee’s report says low- and moderate-income students, on average, need another $3,000 a year in aid before a four-year public college becomes accessible financially to a top low- and middle-income student. And even those who do begin college with those financial needs have difficulty staying in college because of these financial barriers.
The report comes at a time when school reform efforts have focused largely on better academic preparation for students. Yet, the report says, “Academic preparation alone cannot ensure access and persistence and currently does not do so.”
Moreover, one possible consequence of the K-12 reform movement is that the public schools will produce more college-ready students who find college financially unattainable. “Without significant increases in need-based grant aid, this chain of events is irreversible.”
According to the committee’s report, less than two-thirds of top students from families earning below $25,000 annually apply to college. The rate for students from high-income families is 91 percent. Overall, barely half of these low-income students eventually enroll in college, compared with 83 percent of those from affluent families.
In addition, more than 20 percent of top students from low- income families choose not to attend college, compared with 4 percent for those from high- income families, the report said.
Even recent increases in the maximum Pell Grant have done little more than restore some of the program’s lost purchasing power over the last 20 years. Future federal efforts must focus on “the real problem, ensuring that students do not face financial barriers that require strategies that themselves reduce enrollment and persistence.”
For more information about the report, visit <www.ed.gov/offices/AC/ACSFA>.
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