“While the problem is not as extreme among public universities, it is rapidly getting worse,” the report noted.
At public institutions, the loss of state financial support and a rise in tuition play a big part in the trend of higher net prices, Burd said in an interview.
But Burd said school documents showed that “the drive for prestige is very strong as well.”
The Pennsylvania State University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City were among the most expensive public schools for low-income students. At Penn State, the net price for the lowest income group was $16,000 to $18,000 at schools in the statewide system; at UMKC, it was $16,798.
Officials at both schools said those numbers didn’t tell the whole story.
Twenty-eight percent of Penn State’s students receive federal Pell grants. Full grants, worth $5,500 this year, go to low-income families. Partial grants go to people generally with incomes of around $50,000 or less.
Penn State doesn’t admit students based on ability to pay or deliberately offer aid packages that don’t meet the need, said Lisa Powers, the director of the school’s Department of Public Information. But tuition and state aid are the school’s only source of money, she said, and state appropriations last year were the same as they were in 1996, when the school had 15,000 fewer students.
“The fact is, Penn State does not enroll enough ‘full pay’ students to produce the revenue needed to lower the net price for all low-income students,” Powers said, calling the school’s scholarship fund “modest at best.”
At the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Jennifer DeHaemers, the associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said the net price data for two years ago were accurate but no longer relevant.
“UMKC recognized several years ago that our net price for the lowest-income students was higher than it should be, and we crafted a new approach,” she said.