Low-Income Students

Why Federal Officials Should Require Some Colleges to Match Pell Grants

February 5, 2013

Yesterday at Higher Ed Watch, I argued that a federal solution is needed to ensure that colleges use their institutional aid resources to keep higher education affordable for low- and moderate-income students. But why should the federal government get involved?

The reason is simple: the government is already involved, way involved. It spends nearly $40 billion on the Pell Grant program each year to try to remove the financial barriers that prevent low-income students from enrolling in and completing college through the Pell Grant program. Yet colleges are increasingly undercutting the government’s mission by using their institutional aid dollars to try to attract the students they desire rather than to meet the financial need of the low income students they enroll. Worse yet, there is compelling evidence to suggest that schools are capturing a significant share of the Pell Grant funds they receive and using them for other purposes, such as providing non-need-based aid to recruit high achieving and wealthier students. This is one reason why even after historic increases in funding, the program’s impact is so limited: students and families are not receiving the full benefits as intended.

The enormous growth in non-need-based, or “merit” aid, at four-year colleges over the last two decades has come lately at the expense of the neediest students. Low-income students who attend these institutions often face high levels of “unmet need,” defined as the difference between the cost of attendance and the amount of financial aid they receive. Unmet need forces students to take on significant amounts of debt, including risky private student loans. Financially strapped students also frequently engage in activities that lessen their likelihood of completing their degrees, such as working full-time while attending college or dropping out until they can afford to return.

Syllabus: Week of January 27

January 31, 2013
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Welcome to the Syllabus, a weekly guide that provides insight into what’s happening in higher education.


This week New America’s Education Policy Program published Rebalancing Resources and Incentives in Federal Student Aid. In this policy paper we make more than 30 recommendations on how to improve our complex federal financial aid system so that it works better for students and taxpayers. With this many proposals, there was something for everyone to be happy about or frustrated over—sometimes simultaneously.

Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and ProPublica offer great summaries of our proposal if you haven’t already read it. We also have this one-page explainer that will help get you up to speed.

Making Sure Colleges Remain Engines of Opportunity Not Inequality

February 4, 2013

Do colleges still provide a gateway to opportunity for low-income and working class students? Or are they perpetuating inequality in this country by limiting opportunity to only those who are rich enough to be able to afford it?

That question, which came up during a podcast conversation between my colleague Kevin Carey and New York Times journalist and New America Foundation Schwartz fellow Jason DeParle [author of this riveting article on the subject] last week, is central to proposals we have offered that aim to ensure that colleges use their institutional aid resources to keep higher education affordable for low- and moderate-income students.

Unfortunately this is often not the case. Colleges are, in fact, increasingly raising the barriers to higher education for low income students by redirecting their institutional financial aid dollars to wealthier students.

In The Tank: Financial Aid: A System Designed to Fail

January 29, 2013
Every parent of college-aged kids fears the eye-popping complexity of applying for financial aid, but that complexity can actually end the college dream – and the American dream - for some students. In this In the Tank Podcast, New America Managing Editor Fuzz Hogan talks to Education Policy Program Director Kevin Carey and Schwartz Fellow Jason DeParle about some of those stuck students, and discusses how better policy can help fix the crisis.

Final Webinar in PreK-3rd Series: Policies for Scaling Up Reforms

January 28, 2013
Part of PreK-3rd Grade National Work Group Logo

For nearly a year, the PreK-3rd Grade National Work Group has hosted free webinars on how to reduce the achievement gap by focusing on children’s early years: pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first, second and third grades. The last of these webinars, Scale and Sustainability: Implications for State and District Policy, will be held this Wednesday, Jan. 30, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. EST.

Mapping Inequality in Washington, D.C. -- Interactively

January 24, 2013

In October, DC Action for Children released DC Kids Count, an “e-databook” that graphically maps socioeconomic disparities across Washington D.C. neighborhoods. The maps are detailed and elegant, and demonstrate just how segregated the nation’s capital city remains in terms of race, income, educational attainment, access to healthy food and many other measures.

Questions Swirling Around Obama’s Second-Term Steps on Early Learning

January 22, 2013
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As President Obama gave his second inaugural address yesterday, many of us couldn’t help but linger over these words:  “We are true to our creed,” Obama said, “when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.” 

At Huffington Post: Turnaround 2.0: Solutions in Pre-K to Third Grade to Help Failing Schools

January 18, 2013

In a post for the Huffington Post's Education blog, I wrote about the Early Education Initiative's event on January 14 that highlighted three promising strategies for turning around low-performing schools: FirstSchool, AppleTree's Every Child Ready and Cincinnati's

Early Ed’s 10 Hot Spots to Watch in 2013

January 4, 2013
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Each January, Early Ed Watch predicts where we will see the most action, innovation and consternation in the year ahead. Here are the hot spots we see for 2013. Notable is the absence of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary School Act, otherwise known as No Child Left Behind. Prognosticators don’t give the bill much chance of making progress this year, given stalemates between the two houses of Congress.

The Child Care Development Block Grant, on the other hand, could see some action on Capitol Hill.  Debates on how to evaluate teachers will likely continue to dominate, as they did in 2011 and 2012. And at least one topic has popped up consistently since 2010 when we started this exercise: Head Start reform via the new "re-competition” process.

New Resources on Head Start

December 12, 2012

Yesterday the Early Education Initiative issued a new report by Maggie Severns, “Reforming Head Start.” In addition to this issue brief on Head Start “recompetition,” readers can also access our new Head Start background and analysis page, which was released in September as part of our pre-K expansion of the Federal Education Budget Project.

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