Low-Income Students Losing Ground in American Colleges and Universities

Barry Lenson


Fewer low-income and moderate-income students are entering American colleges and universities – and fewer are graduating.

Those are the most important findings in “The Rising Price of Inequality: How Inadequate Grant Aid Limits College Access and Persistence,” a report just submitted to Congress by The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance.

Here are some statistics from this hefty, 63-page report:

  • Between 1992 and 2004, initial enrollment rates of academically qualified low and moderate-income high school graduates in four-year colleges shifted downward: from 54 percent to 40 percent, and from 59 percent to 53 percent, respectively.
  • In 1992, 78 percent of low-income students graduated from the colleges they entered. Today, 75 percent do.

Why are less-advantaged students losing ground in American higher education? According to the report, two things are to blame: rising college costs and the drying up of grant money.

The report states: “At a minimum, federal policy must seek to ensure that states and public colleges hold Pell Grant recipients harmless against increases in cost of attendance, through increases in state and institutional need-based grant aid.”

That’s true – disadvantaged students do need financial assistance. But somehow, The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance failed to notice that online learning could play a major role in making education available to students from all economic backgrounds.

When America realizes the potential of online college courses, things won’t look so grim after all.


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