Nearly fifty years ago, the federal government committed itself to removing the financial barriers that prevent low-income students from enrolling in and completing college. Colleges for years complemented the government's efforts by using their financial aid resources to open the doors to the neediest students. But those days appear to be in the past. With their relentless pursuit of prestige and revenue, the nation's public and private four-year colleges and universities are now in danger of shutting down what has long been a pathway to the middle class for low-income and working-class students.
Today the New America Foundation is releasing Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave the Low-Income Behind, a report that presents a new analysis of little-examined U.S. Department of Education data showing the "net price" – the amount students pay after all grant aid has been exhausted – for low-income students at thousands of individual colleges. The analysis shows that hundreds of public and private non-profit colleges expect the neediest students to pay an amount that is equal to or even more than their families' yearly earnings. As a result, these students are left with little choice but to take on heavy debt loads or engage in activities that reduce their likelihood of earning their degrees, such as working full-time while enrolled or dropping out until they can afford to return.