'U' gets low marks in accessibility for poor students

BY KELLY FRASER

Published November 22, 2006

The University is failing to make itself accessible to low-income students, according to a new study of flagship state universities.

The report gave the University an F in the category of low-income student access.

It averaged a C overall in the categories of low-income student access, minority student access and minority success. No school earned an A.

The Education Trust, which issued the University's report card, is an organization that researches achievement disparities between low-income and minority students and others.

Danette Gerald, who co-authored the report, said the goal of the report was to measure how well a school's student body reflects the statewide proportions of low-income and minority students.

To determine low-income student access, the authors of the report compared the proportion of University students receiving Pell grants to the overall proportion of college and university students receiving Pell grants in Michigan.

The Pell grant program is the largest student aid program run by the federal government. The government determines the award by subtracting a student's expected family contribution from the cost of attendance.

Gerald said she chose Pell Grants to represent low-income students because many students who receive the grants have a family income under $40,000 dollars.

In 2004, 13.5 percent of University students qualified for Pell grants, compared with 34 percent of students statewide.

University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the report used the wrong data to calculate accessibility trends at the University.

According to the report, the proportion of students receiving Pell grants dropped by 25.5 percent between 1992 and 2004.

Peterson said the University's 1992 data included the University's Flint and Dearborn campuses, but the 2004 data only included the Ann Arbor campus.

This distorts the comparison because the Flint and Dearborn campuses have a larger proportion of low-income students, Peterson said.

Excluding the Flint and Dearborn data, accessibility at the Ann Arbor campus decreased by 8.7 percent.

The University earned its best score, a B, in the category of minority student access.

The researchers compared the percentage of black, Latino and Native American students in 2004's freshman class to the percentage of those minorities graduating from Michigan high schools that year.

Black, Latino and Native American students comprised 12.2 percent of 2004's freshman class, compared with 15.2 percent of high school graduates.

The University also received a B in the category of minority success, which compared the six-year graduation rates of minority and white students.

The University of California at Berkeley, which received an A in low-income student access, earned an F for minority student access.

Gerald said there could be a correlation between the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996 - which banned affirmative action in California - and the decrease in accessibility for minority students.

Proposal 2 - which banned the consideration of race, gender and national origin in college admissions, hiring and contracting in the state of Michigan two weeks ago - was modeled after Proposition 209.

The University has recently tried to improve accessibility by expanding the M-PACT grant program and increasing grants for community college transfer students, Peterson said.

Peterson said the University could do a better job letting students know that coming here can be affordable for them.

"Prospective students and their families consistently overestimate the cost of attending college, and underestimate the amount of financial aid that is available," Peterson said in an e-mail interview.

Gerald said the report targeted the flagship university in each state because the schools often act as leaders in state education policy.

"If state flagships commit to reverse these disturbing trends, other institutions will follow their lead," she said.

Report Card
How the rest of the class did in accessibility for low-income students:

UC-Berkley: A
U.Va. : F
U. Wisc. : F
U. Vermont: D