Flagship Colleges’ Aid Priorities Knocked

By Alyson Klein — November 22, 2006 3 min read
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States’ flagship universities are serving disproportionately fewer low-income and minority students than they were more than a decade ago, according to a report released last week by the Education Trust.

Such universities are generally considered the most selective and prestigious branches of their state systems of higher education.

In 1992, the report by the Washington-based research and advocacy organization says 24 percent of undergraduates at flagships received federal Pell Grants for students with low incomes, compared with 29 percent of undergraduates at all colleges. But by 2003, that gap had widened. That year, 22 percent of undergraduates at flagships received Pell Grants, compared with 35 percent of undergraduates at all colleges.

“Engines of Inequality: Diminishing Equity in the Nation’s Premier Public Universities” is posted by The Education Trust.

During that same period, flagships began serving a smaller percentage of underrepresented minority students, according to the report. In 1992, 22 percent of high school graduates were black, Latino, or Native American, while 11 percent of freshmen at flagships were from those groups. In 2004, those groups accounted for 28 percent of all high school graduates, but had inched up only to 12 percent of freshmen on flagship campuses.

The study also found that flagships give more financial aid to students from some affluent families than those from some low-income families.

For instance, in the 2003-04 academic year, the flagship universities, along with a group of similar public research universities, gave $257 million in financial aid to students from families with household incomes of more than $100,000 a year. By contrast, the same schools spent only $171 million on students from families earning less than $20,000 a year, according to an Education Trust analysis of data from the 2003-04 National Postsecondary Aid Survey.

The extra aid for some of those wealthier students is generally intended to attract high achievers who might have gone to college out of state or to a private university. But the Education Trust contends that flagship institutions are helping those students, who would have gone to college anyway, at the expense of academically qualified, low-income students who might not otherwise be able to cover the cost of higher education.

In an effort “to purchase more and more prestige every year, many institutions are turning their backs on students of color and low income students,” Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust, said in a Nov. 20 conference call with reporters, following the release of the report “Engines of Inequality: Diminishing Equity in the Nation’s Premier Public Universities.”

Georgia’s Imbalance

The study, which examined statistics at a single flagship university in every state, gave less-than-stellar grades to nearly all of them, in areas including minority access, low-income access, minority success, and progress in access and success.

The University of Georgia, in Athens, received especially low marks for its racial diversity. In 2004, only 7 percent of its freshmen were from underrepresented racial minority groups, although those groups made up 36 percent of that year’s high school graduates in the state.

But Cheryl D. Dozier, the associate provost in the university’s office of institutional diversity, said that the institution has recently taken steps to correct the imbalance, including an effort aimed at recruiting and retaining Hispanic students.

“We’re not where we want to be, but we truly aren’t where we used to be,” she said, noting that the school’s freshman class this year is about 10 percent minority.

A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 2006 edition of Education Week as Flagship Colleges’ Aid Priorities Knocked


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