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March 09, 2014 11:15 AM College, Federal Financial Aid Increasingly Benefits the Rich

By Jon Marcus

That means pricey private, nonprofit universities, which have been invested in work-study the longest and have the highest tuitions, are its biggest beneficiaries, with only 17 percent of all U.S. students but 40 percent of work-study funding, the College Board reports. Community colleges, by comparison, enroll 30 percent of the nation’s college students—many with low incomes—but get only 16 percent of the money.

Nearly one in five work-study recipients—who earn an average of $1,642 each by working in dining halls, libraries, and other places on and off campus—comes from a family whose annual income exceeds $100,000, according to research conducted at Teachers College, Columbia University. And federal statistics show that those students earn an average of $2,300, versus $2,100 for recipients whose families make less than $20,000 per year.

The colleges “say they’re using this to help low-income students, but then you look at the numbers and you’ve got high-income kids getting this money,” Santiago said.

All of these things together, she said, mean financial aid and other programs intended to help the poor attain higher educations have been benefiting more affluent families instead, even as resources are tight and college costs are climbing.

“The time is really critical that we take responsibility for the policy implications and the impact of these things,” Santiago said, “and not just the intent.”

[Cross-posted at the Hechinger Report]

Jon Marcus is a higher education editor at the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

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