NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 28, 2004

Kids from rich families are more likely to pursue bachelor's degrees than kids from poor families, and they're more likely to end up at elite universities, says USA Today.

  • In families earning more than $80,000 per year, 90 percent of high school graduates attend college by the age of 24; only 6 out 10 students from families earning less than $33,000 per year do so.
  • Out of the nation's top 146 colleges, 74 percent come from the top socioeconomic quarter, while only 3 percent come from the lowest socioeconomic quarter.
  • Upper-income students are slowly displacing middle-income students.

Moreover, Pell Grants, which are available to students with family incomes of less than $40,000, covered 84 percent of the cost of a four-year education in a public college 30 years ago, but only 40 percent of the cost today. As a result, students must take out burdensome loans, which can total up to $20,000 for graduating middle-income students.

However, many colleges are trying to reverse the trend by unveiling their own programs, with most of them designed to replace loans with grant money, says USA Today:

  • At the University of Virginia, where half of the students report family incomes over $100,000, administrators are capping loans for about 3 percent of first-year students, instead replacing costs above $15,000 with grants-in-aid packages.
  • Harvard University, where about 7 percent of undergraduates receive Pell grants, will waive contributions from parents earning less than $40,000 per year.
  • The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill is replacing loans with grants in its financial packages for students whose families earn less than $27,000 per year.

Observers also blame the equity gap on the lack of preparedness of lower income students for college. Harvard now has a summer program designed to prepare needy Boston-area kids for college.

Source: Mary Beth Marklein, "Low-Income Students Scare at Elite Colleges," USA Today, September 20, 2004.


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