In a report released on June 1 by The Education Trust, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) is one of just five universities in the country recognized for meeting a conservative set of criteria on affordability, access and quality.
Recognition was based on enrollment of a proportion of low-income students that is at or above the national average and graduation of at least 50 percent of all its students while asking its low-income students to pay a portion of their family income no greater than what the average middle income student pays for a bachelor’s degree.
“At Cal State Long Beach we are focused on those measures that will ensure a better future for California and the nation. It is absolutely apparent that this progress is impossible without recognizing the needs of lower-income students and providing them with the financial and educational support necessary to support attainment of a university degree,” said CSULB President F. King Alexander. “It is imperative that lower income students are given the same educational opportunity as those with more financial means; our nation’s future demands this support. Furthermore, this report clearly shows that both the federal and state governments nationwide should provide more public support to those universities that are providing affordable, efficient and high quality educational experiences to those with the greatest needs.”
CSULB joined Cal State Fullerton, two City University of New York campuses -- Bernard M. Baruch College and Queens College, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as the five American colleges that have a net price for low-income students of $4,600 or less with graduation rates of at least 50 percent and at least a 30 percent enrollment of Pell Grant-eligible students.
The report, titled “Priced Out: How the Wrong Financial-Aid Policies Hurt Low-Income Students,” uses the most recent federal data from 1,186 four-year colleges and universities in America on what low-income students actually pay to attend college. Net price is the amount that students pay for higher education once all grants received have been applied.
“These institutions deserve to be recognized for swimming against the tide and making the opportunity for a college education available to low-income students,” said Mamie Lynch, co-author of the report and higher education research and policy analyst at The Education Trust.
The report points out that the five colleges are from three public university systems, noting the three systems are deeply and publicly committed to closing the access and success gaps between low-income and high-income students and between whites and underrepresented minorities. Additionally, all three states–-California, New York and North Carolina–-provide more need-based financial aid per student than most other states.
“But we should be deeply worried that there are so few institutions doing this,” Lynch continued. “The more general pattern is pricing low-income students out of higher education and all that it offers them, their communities and our entire country. It’s an unsustainable practice that can only lead to deeper and more dangerous divides between haves and have-nots.”
College costs are skyrocketing. Yet as the report shows, those rising costs, coupled with shifting aid policies—which increasingly benefit students who could go to college without financial help—limit affordable, high-quality college options for low-income students.
The report shows that the average low-income family must contribute an amount roughly equivalent to 72 percent of its annual household income each year just to send one child to a four-year college. Middle-class and high-income families, on the other hand, fare much better. They contribute amounts equivalent to just 27 percent and 14 percent of their yearly earnings, respectively.
“Low-income students who have worked hard, played by the rules and done what’s been asked of them academically are not getting the support they need to pay for college,” said José Cruz, co-author of the report and vice president of higher education program and policy at The Education Trust. “While costs have soared over the last 30 years, grant aid for low-income students has not kept pace, forcing more and more of them to encumber themselves with life-altering debt.”
As it stands, financial-aid policy choices are increasingly benefitting affluent students instead of those with the greatest demonstrated need. And the results speak for themselves: More than 80 percent of students from families in the highest income quartile have a bachelor’s degree by age 24, but the figure for young Americans from the lowest income quartile is just 8 percent. Without a concerted effort at the federal, state, and institutional levels to help more students earn a college degree, the affordability gap will continue to grow.
At the same time, the study shows that the average private, nonprofit institution spends nearly twice as much in grant money on high-income students as it does on low-income students. Even many well-resourced private colleges are educating far too few low-income students. At a number of those top-ranked institutions—such as Brigham Young University, Duke University, Tulane University and University of Notre Dame—fewer than 10 percent of freshmen receive Pell Grant aid, the federal program that helps low-income students afford college costs, whereas about 30 percent of freshmen nationwide benefit from Pell.
At the federal level, Pell Grants help make higher education more affordable for nearly 10 million low-income Americans. But as Congress works to reduce overall national spending, the program is in danger of being cut. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a huge cut to the maximum award that would have further increased the net price of colleges and universities.
“In America, access to a good education should not be determined by whether your family can afford to pay for it,” said Jennifer Engle, co-author of the report and director of higher education research and policy at The Education Trust. “Pell cuts would force many hard-working Americans to have to choose between encumbering themselves with crippling debt or turning away from higher education entirely. This program is not just a line item in the federal budget. It’s a key resource for low-income students that they simply can’t afford to lose.”
The Education Trust promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels—pre-kindergarten through college. Its goal is to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young people—especially those from low-income families or who are black, Latino, or American Indian—to lives on the margins of the American mainstream.