SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

May 31, 2013

Public colleges often no bargain for poor

WASHINGTON — Many public colleges and universities expect their poorest students to pay a third, half or even more of their families’ annual incomes each year for college, a new study of college costs has found.

With most American students enrolling in their states’ public institutions in hopes of gaining affordable degrees, the new data show that the net price — the full cost of attending college minus scholarships — can be surprisingly high for families that make $30,000 a year or less.

The numbers track with larger national trends: the growing student-loan debt and decline in college completion among low-income students.

Because of the high net price, “these students are left with little choice but to take on heavy debt loads or engage in activities that lessen their likelihood of earning their degrees, such as working full time while enrolled or dropping out until they can afford to return,” Stephen Burd wrote in a recent report for the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan group that examines the effects of rising inequality and other trends. The federal government has increased its spending on Pell grants for the neediest students. Still, the high net prices show that the grants go only so far.

Burd, a senior policy analyst for the foundation’s education policy program, looked at data that the U.S. Department of Education has required public and private colleges and universities to provide for the past few years. The latest average net price figures are for the 2010-11 school year.

The net price and much more information about all colleges and universities nationwide is on the department’s College Navigator website.

The foundation’s report argued that many private colleges use their own scholarship money to bring in top students from more affluent families in order to boost their position in the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings.

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