Colleges pledge to help the poor, do opposite?



Many times I’ve mentioned that the folks running higher education really seem to be far more interested in luring suckers in, draining them of money and spitting them out, than, well, education. Oh, the Poo Bahs running higher education bloviate about “jobs, community, and service”, but despite the flowery words, their actions always seem to be about sucking up the money.

I’ve casually played with my calculator enough times to know the actions seem more in line with reality than the truth, but such is so seldom said online that I often have wondered if maybe I’m just not that good with a calculator.

Sometimes an article agrees with my calculator:

Colleges that pledged to help poor families have been doing the opposite, new figures show

Interesting. The general slant of the article is that the children of wealthy families aren’t paying as much for their education as the children of poor families. It’s an interesting distinction, although “poor” is starting to be a fair word to apply to much of the American population today.

Let me pluck out a few tidbits before pointing out what the article missed:

As institutions vie for income and prestige in this way, the net prices they’re charging the lowest-income students, after discounts and financial aid, continue to rise faster on average than the net prices they’re charging higher-income ones, according to an analysis of newly released data the universities and colleges are required to report to the U.S. Department of Education.

The statistics here are a little bit tortured, but there is some truth in this. What’s happening is there are plenty of merit scholarships available, and those merit scholarships are more often awarded to children of wealthy families than to children of poor families.

This is true…but there are some overlooked issues.

Parents want the best for their children, and, bottom line, money talks. A wealthy parent has more money to spend on a child’s education, and generally will spend it. A poor parent is told to hope (foolishly) that the public education system, and nothing more, will be enough for a child. Social promotion and other problems often leave such children graduating high school thinking they know what education is all about…only to hit a brick wall once college starts.

It’s fairly common practice now, in public schools, for teachers to go over the test material in detail seconds before passing out the test—students need not study to do well, merely have a decent short-term memory. In college, the legitimate ones at least, most professors still don’t give the answers out right before the test. But I digress.

Back to the point for today, the colleges promised to “help” the poor by putting their kids in college, but how helpful is it when the poorer kids end up paying more?

“…promised to expand the opportunities for low-income students to go to college. In fact, the private universities in that group collectively raised what the poorest families pay by 10 percent, compared to 5 percent for wealthier students,…”

So, apparently merit scholarships are disproportionately going to kids to have better opportunities to learn. Awesome. Next up, there’ll be a study showing that professional basketball teams are disproportionately represented by tall people.

I don’t want to sound callous here, but I do want to point out the internet is accessible to almost all the “poor”, and America’s public library system really does provide pretty much anything anyone could want to know, for free.

As an example of just how much potential there are in books, consider the Williams sisters, and their amazing career in tennis. They didn’t come from a wealthy family, and they certainly didn’t come from a tennis family. No. Their father, a sharecropper, decided that tennis was a good way to make money, and so started them on the path to learning about tennis by checking out books from the library.

So, I acknowledge it’s “a little unfair” that some parents have the ability to help their children more than others…but I just don’t believe that enforcing fairness I this matter is possible, or particularly desirable. The children of the rich have the advantage in that they can get the books read to them, while the children of the poor are forced to read for themselves if they want that merit scholarship. I think providing the books for free is about the best we can do to promote fairness.

It’s tough to take the article seriously when the author isn’t asking much in the way of questions, but at least there are some hard numbers:

“…At the University of Virginia, for instance, the poorest students saw their net price climb $4,313 over that period, compared to $2,687 for students in the top earning bracket…”

I can’t emphasize enough how strange it is that the article isn’t asking questions here. I mean, if you’re selling something expensive, and higher education sure is expensive, should you target the wealthy, or the poor? That seems easy to answer, but our schools target the poor. Why are our schools targeting the poor? That’s an obvious question, but even when the article has the answer crammed in its face, it still doesn’t think about it much:

UVA President Teresa Sullivan was among the leaders who pledged to help poor families afford the price of college. From the start of the economic downturn through 2013, however, UVA raised the net price for its very poorest students by 69 percent, more than three times faster than for wealthier students, whose tuition increased 21 percent, the federal figures show. And even since January, beginning with the class that entered this fall, the public university dropped a policy of meeting full need for the lowest-income students without requiring them to take out loans and now asks in-state families to borrow up to $14,000 over four years and out-of-state families up to $28,000.

Hmm. So, obviously, they’re targeting the poor, but the excerpt above explains why: thanks to the weird student loan scam, the poor have more money (at least for the university) than the rich…the poor are more likely to qualify for those insane loans. It’s easier to get money from the people without money.

What a mad, mad, world higher education is today.

Even at the 36 taxpayer-supported public universities that signed the White House pledge, poor students paid an average net price of about $8,000 in 2008-09 and almost $10,000 in 2012-13. That’s a 25 percent increase. During the same period, wealthier students at those schools saw their average net price go from about $18,000 to $21,000, a 16 percent increase.

Wait, what? This doesn’t even make sense, the wealthier ARE paying more. Now, as a percent it’s not more, but that’s a meaningless statistic…a nominal increase of even $5 will still reflect worse on the poor than the rich.

Universities “are giving lots of merit aid to kids who don’t need it,” and less financial aid to those who do, said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan think tank The Century Foundation.

Now the article is going full-on train wreck. Merit aid isn’t FOR kids who “need” it, it’s for kids who “merit” it. You’d think a “senior fellow” would know that.

Seriously, just put more scholarship money based on need on the table, and this problem could be fixed. Oh wait, that would cut into those sweet, sweet, student loan checks.

It really should be pointed out that many merit scholarships are granted, not through schools, but through organizations that are interested in promoting one thing or another. So, “math scholarships” for example, are created by people donating their own money to promote and encourage students to study math, and the same is true for many other fields. It’s not the school’s fault that this is the reality of how the world works…although it’d be nice if they did some things not to screw over poor students into endless debt.

Oh wait, that would cut into the sweet, sweet, student loan checks:

“…Requiring all students to borrow is projected to save the university more than $10 million through 2018.”

Wow, $10 million is a lot of money, the school must be getting pretty tight on funds not to be able to spare that over the course of several years.


“…even as it was cutting the cost of providing financial aid to its poorest students, UVA was spending $12 million on a new squash facility and increasing its marketing budget by $18 million annually…”

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Poo Bah in higher education that thought maybe education should be about education, jobs, or community? I’ve nothing against squash personally (I honestly can’t even tell you if the game uses a ball, or is played 1 on 1), but if the school really gave a damn about helping the community, maybe it could use that $12 million bucks to help the community? If jobs were a priority, well, I encourage the gentle reader to peruse the want ads and see just how much demand for squash players there is in the community.

I’m sure all the money for squash is part of some financial shuffling to support and hide money spent on more visible sportsball programs, but I want to talk about the marketing here.

$18 million dollars for “marketing”. Sales. More customers. Growth. UVA is taxpayer supported, I imagine folks would be less willing to spend their taxes if they knew the money was going to pop-up ads and commercials, instead of the “education, jobs, community” that the Poo Bahs spout.

One last line:

“There’s plenty of aid going to the $80,000 [earners] and below, but once you get to $80,000 it’s not like it’s some magic number and you can suddenly afford tuition.”

While the article really wants to make a distinction, please realize that “poor” really does apply to just about all applicants; I suspect the bulk of my readers are in the “$80,000 and below” category that’s being called “poor”.

The “unfairness” of merit-based scholarships is now under attack, and used as some explanation of the immense expense of higher education, but I promise you, the bigger issues are the student loan scam and the ruling caste of administration that cares nothing for education. This ridiculously highly paid caste spends huge fortunes on squash facilities and marketing, while pompously lecturing us that there just isn’t enough money to help the poor.