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January 14, 2010 2:22 PM State Universities Take a Hit

By Daniel Luzer

The state universities are failing in their mission to provide inexpensive education to middle and low income families, according to a new report by the Education Trust. According to a Washington Post article about the study:

Many of the nation’s top public universities are giving millions of dollars in financial aid to students from relatively wealthy families instead of to those who urgently need it, resulting in campuses that are often less diverse than those at elite private schools.
From 2003 to 2007, public research universities increased the amount of aid to students whose parents make at least $115,000 a year by 28 percent, to $361.4 million, said the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Those schools routinely award as much in financial aid to students whose parents make more than $80,000 a year as to those whose parents make less than $54,000 a year.

This news is not terribly surprising and seems to reflect a trend across American universities. An academic paper presented earlier this month demonstrated that elite private colleges were also shifting more financial aid to students from reasonably wealthy families, though the shift did not come about because schools were actually taking money away from needy students and giving it to rich kids. Colleges were merely increasingly their generosity up the income scale while at the same time there simply aren’t very many low income students attending selective colleges.

This is a problem at state universities, however, according to the Education Trust report, because these schools are just not doing enough to attract and support needy students:

Public flagship universities provide excellence to students who cannot afford high-quality private institutions. Yet many of these universities direct aid to wealthy students who will attend college without it. Meantime, many high-achieving minority and poor students wind up in lesser institutions or do not attend college at all.

The study reported that only 13 percent of students in public research universities were from families making less than $30,000 a year. Some 30 percent of students in public research universities were from families earning more than $115,000 a year.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer