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September 04, 2014 10:54 AM Nasty Tricks Some Colleges Play

By Ed Kilgore

There’s an enormous amount of useful information on U.S. colleges—individually and collectively—in the new issue of the Washington Monthly. If you are somehow unconvinced of the need for more accountability and transparency for colleges, or are yourselves as students or parents in the midst of the college application process, the top must-read might be the compilation by Stephen Burd and Rachel Fishman of the New America Foundation of tricks some schools play in admissions and financial aid decisions.

They discuss ten such tricks, and I won’t list them all. But they include some pretty arcane practices, like calibrating financial aid to screw over some students they figure will attend anyway, while discouraging applicants they don’t actually want. There’s also the devilish practice of including loans in “financial aid” packages that require later, credit-driven approval, and an assortment of deceptions associated with inaccurate claims that a give college has a “need-blind” admissions policy.

An item that really caught my attention was this one:

Students and families beware: the plum financial aid package you receive your freshman year may not be quite as impressive your sophomore year. The bait and switch of financial aid packages from year to year is known as “front-loading financial aid.” According to Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert, about half of all colleges front-load grants and scholarships so that students receive a bigger discount their first couple of years but then face a financial aid package filled with loans in subsequent years.

Tell me about it. My own alma mater cut my scholarship before my sophomore year even as it raised tuition. I managed to survive via pretty heavy part-time work at a potato chip factory, which also made it easier to spend next to nothing on food. But ‘twas a near thing. And that was back in the simple days of college admissions before fine-tuning a student body with the requisite balance of money and credentials became a real science. Better check out this article and be forewarned.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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