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Escalating Tuition Bills

Posted by gradefund on December 12, 2008

Escalating Tuition Bills

Published: October 23, 2002

The public universities and colleges that grant three-quarters of this country’s degrees are becoming increasingly unaffordable to the poor and working-class students who have traditionally used them to move out of poverty into the middle class. This troubling trend was underscored yet again this week when the College Board released alarming data showing that public-college tuition had risen by nearly 10 percent — the largest increase in a decade. This sharp tuition rise follows a period when the costs of higher education have outpaced tuition aid.

The public college tuition hikes can be partly traced to the recession, but also to the long-term tendency of state legislatures to attack higher education in times of hardship. The rising tuition costs are made worse by the fact that federal tuition aid has failed to keep pace with the real costs of education. A quarter-century ago the federal Pell grants for lower-income students covered about 85 percent of the costs of attending a public college. Today they cover about 40 percent. To make matters worse, colleges and states have begun to award aid based on test scores and grades as opposed to need.

Congress needs to bring the Pell grants closer to the real cost of higher education. At the state level, legislatures need to remind themselves that they must open the road to college for poor and working-class residents before they underwrite tuition assistance for their wealthier constituents. If the current patterns persist, the country will end up back at that point in history when colleges were reserved mainly for the affluent few.


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