A new study found that top public universities, including the University of Michigan, are giving less financial aid to students from lower income families and are increasing their aid to students who come from more affluent families.
The report called Opportunity Adrift, was released late last week by the non-profit advocacy group The Education Trust and rated each state’s premier public university on access for under-represented minority and low-income students. It also assessed the success rate those students have in earning their degrees and outlined changes in these figures from the 2004-2005 to 2007-2008 school years.
According to the report, during the 2007-2008 year, the University ranked in the bottom quartile in terms of a composite ratio of minority student access, low-income student access and minority student success. The University of Michigan was also one of six institutions nationwide whose ranking dropped from 2005 to 2008.
The report specifically named the University of Michigan as one of the worst institutions in the country.
“Two institutions — the Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Michigan — received the lowest overall marks for performance and progress,” the report said.
University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said in a written statement that the University could not comment on the study because it has not had enough time to study its findings closely.
“We have recently received a copy of The Education Trust report and want to give it thorough and serious consideration,” Cunningham said in the statement. “Until then, we cannot discuss the report in depth. The report covers topics of great importance that are central to American higher education. At the University of Michigan, we work to make higher education accessible and to ensure that our students succeed.”
According to the report, from 2003 to 2007, public universities spent 28 percent more on aid to students whose parents jointly earned at least $115,000 per year. That’s an increase from $282.5 million in 2003 to $361.4 million four years later.
The report argues that the findings indicate that public universities are straying from their mission of providing a quality education to individuals who could not afford to attend more expensive private universities, adding that the colleges are neglecting lower income students for whom the schools were created.
“During times of rapid increases in the price of college, leaders of these universities could have chosen to deploy their own aid resources in ways that cushioned families near the bottom of the economic ladder,” the report said. “But instead they chose differently, spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year to attract students who had no financial need whatsoever.”
The report went on to say that reduced Pell Grants, on top of decreasing financial aid from public universities, have made it even more difficult for lower income students to afford college tuition.
The federal government awards Pell Grants to students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and demonstrate financial need.
“Thirty years ago, the federal Pell Grant covered most of the cost to attend a four-year college. Now, it’s only about one-third,” Mary Lynch, the research analyst who conducted the analyses for the report, said in a statement. “Not surprisingly, smaller proportions of low-income students enroll in four-year colleges today than a generation ago.”
The report explicitly outlined the fact that the University of Michigan has a smaller number of students who receive Pell Grants than other colleges in the state. According to the report, almost 39 percent of college students in Michigan are Pell Grant recipients, but only 13 percent of students attending the University of Michigan receive the grants.
Though the report outlined the failures of the University and other public institutions to make education affordable for lower income and minority students, it also showed that some public universities were successful in promoting the enrollment of those groups.
According to the report, The State University of New York at Buffalo is one of the most improved public universities in terms of promoting minority graduation. In 2005, the report said, minority students graduated at a 67-percent rate of white graduates. By 2008, though, minority students graduated at a 93-percent rate of their white counterparts.
Kati Haycock, director of The Education Trust, acknowledged in a statement that public universities are receiving less and less funding from the state governments. However, she added that they are still well-funded and need to offer more financial aid to students that need it.
“These institutions receive more generous public subsidies than other colleges,” Haycock wrote in the statement. “They provide more aid to their undergraduates than any other funding source, and they have the power to spend that aid differently.”
“As some institutions in this study have shown, they can be as good at competing for and graduating low-income and minority students as they are at so many other things — when they want to,” Haycock continued. “The question is, ‘When will more of them do so?’