WASHINGTON – Many public colleges and universities expect their poorest students to pay a third, half or even more of their families’ annual incomes each year for college, a new study of college costs has found.
With most American students enrolling in their states’ public institutions in hopes of gaining affordable degrees, the new data show that the net price – the full cost of attending college minus scholarships – can be surprisingly high for families that make $30,000 a year or less.
The numbers track with larger national trends: the growing student-loan debt and decline in college completion among low-income students.
Because of the high net price, “these students are left with little choice but to take on heavy debt loads or engage in activities that lessen their likelihood of earning their degrees, such as working full time while enrolled or dropping out until they can afford to return,” Stephen Burd wrote in a recent report for the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan group that examines the effects of rising inequality and other trends.
At public institutions, the loss of state financial support and a rise in tuition play a big part in the trend of higher net prices, Burd said in an interview.
Tuition at public universities in Illinois in the 2010-2011 school year averaged $10,508 for the state’s poorest students, ranging from $15,065 at Northeastern Illinois University to $7,432 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
At the same time, some states, including North Carolina, Florida and California, charged low-income students about $5,000 to $6,000 on average.
High net prices for the neediest students are most prominent at private nonprofit schools. Burd found that nearly two-thirds of the 479 private colleges and universities that he studied charged students from families that made $30,000 or less a net price of more than $15,000 a year.
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The report used the University of Miami as an example of a private school that had shifted to more non-need-based aid to attract talented, and wealthier, students. Federal data show that students whose families make $30,000 or less paid, on average, $21,415 after scholarships at the University of Miami.
“We agree that at the University of Miami we should strive to help our needy students attend college,” spokeswoman Liz Amore said.
She said the school was shifting money from non-need-based, or “merit,” aid to need-based aid and was raising money for scholarships for low-income students.
“I’m hoping this report shows the importance of the net price number,” Burd said. “Because colleges, when they know a certain number is important, tend to work toward improving that number.”
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