Journalism in the Public Interest

Public Universities Ramp Up Aid for the Wealthy, Leaving the Poor Behind

Chasing prestige and battered by state funding cuts, many public colleges and universities with a historic responsibility to provide access to an affordable education have turned to “financial aid leveraging,” offering wealthy or high-scoring students discounts on tuition. 

Shauniqua Epps was accepted to three public colleges, but none gave her any aid. Increasingly, public universities have been shifting their aid away from the poor, leaving students like Epps with few options. (Andrew Renneisen for ProPublica)

This story was co-published with The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Shauniqua Epps was the sort of student that so many colleges say they want.

She was a high achiever, graduating from high school with a 3.8 GPA and ranking among the top students in her class. She served as secretary, then president, of the student government. She played varsity basketball and softball. Her high-school guidance counselor, in a letter of recommendation, wrote that Epps was “an unusual young lady” with “both drive and determination.”

Epps, 19, was also needy.

Her family lives in subsidized housing in South Philadelphia, and her father died when she was in third grade. Her mother is on Social Security disability, which provides the family $698 a month, records show. Neither of her parents finished high school.

Epps, who is African-American, made it her goal to be the first in her family to attend college.

“I did volunteering. I did internships. I did great in school. I was always good with people,” said Epps, who has a broad smile and a cheerful manner. “I thought everything was going to go my way.”

At first, it looked that way.

Epps was admitted to three colleges, all public institutions in Pennsylvania. She was awarded the maximum Pell grant, federal funds intended for needy students. She also qualified for the maximum state grant for needy Pennsylvania students.

None of the three schools Epps was admitted to gave her a single dollar of aid.

To attend her dream school, Lincoln University, Epps would have had to come up with about $4,000 per year, after maxing out on federal loans — close to half of what her mother receives from Social Security. It was money her family didn’t have, she said.

Public colleges and universities were generally founded and funded to give students in their states access to an affordable college education. They have long served as a vital pathway for students from modest means and those who are the first in their families to attend college.

But many public universities, faced with their own financial shortfalls, are increasingly leaving low-income students behind — including strivers like Epps.

It’s not just that colleges are continuously pushing up sticker prices. Public universities have also been shifting their aid, giving less to the poorest students and more to the wealthiest.

A ProPublica analysis of new data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that from 1996 through 2012, public colleges and universities gave a declining portion of grants — as measured by both the number of grants and the dollar amounts — to students in the lowest quartile of family income. That trend has continued even though the recession hit those in lower income brackets the hardest.

The Decline in Grants to Low-Income Students

Portion of institutional grants given to students in the lowest and highest income quartiles.


 Students in the lowest quartile of income
 Students in the highest quartile of income Source: ProPublica analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education National Postsecondary Student Aid Study

Attention has long been focused on the lack of economic diversity at private colleges, especially at the most elite schools. What has been little discussed, by contrast, is how public universities, which enroll far more students, have gradually shifted their priorities — and a growing portion of their aid dollars — away from low-income students.

State schools are typically considered to offer the most affordable, accessible four-year education students can get. When those schools raise tuition and don’t offer more aid, low-income students are often forced to decide not just which college to attend but whether they can afford to attend college at all.

“The most needy students are getting squeezed out,” said Charles Reed, a former chancellor of the California State University system and of the State University System of Florida. “Need-based aid is extremely important to these students and their parents.”

There’s no data on the number of needy but qualified students who are “squeezed out” and don’t make it onto four-year college campuses. But what is clear is that while the number of needy students has been growing, state schools have not kept up.

Over roughly two decades, four-year state schools have been educating a shrinking portion of the nation’s lowest-income students, according to an analysis of Pell-grant data by Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the nonprofit Pell Institute. The task of educating low-income students has increasingly fallen to community colleges and for-profit schools.

Epps’ top choice, officially known as The Lincoln University, is about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, and was one of the nation’s first historically black colleges. Founded in 1854 to serve African-Americans excluded from other colleges, the school became a public institution in the early 1970s, when the state legislature deemed its mission to be “completely compatible with the needs of the Commonwealth.”

All of the school’s own aid typically goes toward athletic or merit-based scholarships, regardless of students’ needs. In the 2009-10 budget, for instance, most of the roughly $3 million in institutional aid went to four specific “merit-based” scholarships — and the rest to athletics, international students, and study abroad, according to data supplied by Lincoln. The only need-based aid available to students is through separate donor-supported scholarships, some of which are earmarked for needy students, said university spokesman Eric Webb.

Aid given based on merit or other factors could still go to needy students, but that doesn’t appear to be happening much at Lincoln.

Data made available by the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success show that 84 percent of the school’s grant dollars in the 2009-10 school year did not go to meeting students’ needs. (The data does not include athletic scholarships and certain other forms of aid.)

At Epps’ second choice, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, two-thirds of aid dollars in 2010-11 went to students who had no documented need for it, according to the latest data available. (East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, the third school that accepted Epps, did not provide a breakdown of institutional grant aid.)

Why have public universities across the nation shifted their aid?

“For some schools, they’re trying to climb to the top of the rankings. For other schools, it’s more about revenue generation,” said Don Hossler, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington.

To achieve these goals, schools use their aid to draw wealthier students — especially those from out of state, who will pay more in tuition — or higher-achieving students, whose scores will give the colleges a boost in the rankings.

Private colleges have been using such tactics aggressively for some time. But in recent years, many public colleges have sought to catch up, doing what the industry calls “financial-aid leveraging.”

The math can work like this: Instead of offering, say, $12,000 to an especially needy student, a school might choose to leverage its aid by giving $3,000 discounts to four students with less need, each of whom scored high on the SAT, who together will bring in more tuition dollars than the needier student.

Those discounts are often offered to prospective students as “merit aid.”

Despite its name, “merit aid isn’t always going to the very best students,” Hossler said. “It’s an intentional strategy to help offset the loss of state support.”

Hossler knows this world firsthand. For years, he carried out such strategies as vice chancellor for enrollment services at Indiana University.

“One of my charges was to go after what I would call pretty good out-of-state students,” he said. “Not valedictorians, not the top of the class. Students who you didn’t have to give thousands and thousands of dollars to in order to get them to enroll.”

Indiana University is not alone in thinking about financial aid this way. Consultants who work with schools on financial-aid strategies said they’ve seen an uptick in interest from public universities in recent years, with many focused on generating more revenue.

“When public [universities] come to us individually now, they won’t admit it, but they’re all looking for the same thing — smart students who can pay,” said an industry consultant who asked not to be named.

Another industry consultant, Mary Piccioli of Scannell & Kurz, said many of her firm’s public-school clients are looking to use financial aid “to positively impact the bottom line.”

College officials often argue that attracting students with more resources means they’ll have more aid to redistribute to those in need.

“There’s certainly some truth to that,” said Donald Heller, dean of Michigan State University’s College of Education, who has researched institutional-aid patterns extensively. “But I don’t think that’s really the motivating behavior for many institutions. The more dominant motivating behavior is interest in high-achieving students, which will help them with institutional prestige.”

Epps, apparently, didn’t generate that sort of interest.

She was in her high school’s computer lab, checking her email, when she saw the message from Lincoln University laying out her financial aid package: a mix of state and federal money but nothing from Lincoln.

“Once I saw it, I knew it wasn’t the amount that I needed,” Epps said. “Right away I knew it.”

Shauniqua Epps laughs with one of her counselors, Christina Santos of Philadelphia Futures. Epps attributes a lot of her success to the program, which helps low-income students get into and finish college. (Andrew Renneisen for ProPublica)

Epps had been getting guidance from Philadelphia Futures, an organization that helps low-income high-school students get into and complete college. When she went through the cost calculations with a coordinator there, it became clear: The money simply didn't add up.

At first, Epps said, she blamed herself for not qualifying for aid. She felt like a failure.

“I was kind of upset because I felt as though I worked so hard,” she said. “I kept thinking how I’m not a good test taker.”

Epps had scored a combined SAT score of 820 on math and critical reading. In fact, that’s solidly in the middle of Lincoln’s score distributions for many years, according to data reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

But what Epps didn’t know is that the school had committed to “continuously improving its SAT and GPA averages for incoming cohorts” — as language found in a strategic planning document put it. She also didn’t know that the school had been spending the majority of its financial aid on students who would help bring up those averages — regardless of whether they needed the money.

“To attract top students to your institution, you have to be able to offer them a competitive scholarship package,” said Lincoln University President Robert Jennings. “That’s usually a full-tuition scholarship, that’s a private room sometimes or laptop computer, or a whole bunch of other perks. That’s what schools do. All schools do it.”

Rather than giving small discounts to many students, as many colleges do, Lincoln focuses on giving free rides to top scorers – as a Lincoln admissions flyer lays out.

The strategy seems to have worked. Lincoln University has raised its scores in recent years. In 2002, half of Lincoln’s incoming freshmen scored between a 360 and 460 on the math section of the SAT. In 2012, half of students scored between 410 and 490.

The boost in scores has been no accident, according to Jennings. He said it was a mandate from the Board of Trustees.

“They wanted to increase the SAT averages of students coming to Lincoln,” Jennings said.

And what about students who may have once been a natural fit but aren’t hitting the higher scores? The school still wants to serve some of them — “because of our historical mission,” explained Jennings. But Lincoln has also increasingly been “trying to steer that lower tier of students — students who need much more help — into community colleges,” he said.

Jennings doesn’t see this as a departure from the school’s mission to provide public access. “Absolutely not,” he said. “That’s why you have community colleges. They, too, are public institutions, and we have built collaborative relationships with them.” He added that the school recently launched a campaign to raise more money for scholarships, some of which will go to providing more need-based aid.

Like Lincoln, both Millersville University and East Stroudsburg University — the two other colleges that accepted Epps — have created strategic planning documents that include language reflecting a desire to move up academically.

In a 2010-15 strategic planning document, East Stroudsburg University outlined the goals of becoming “more selective in each new year” as well as fostering “strategic alignment of financial aid” to better attract top students.

“High-achieving and access are not mutually exclusive,” said spokeswoman Brenda Friday. “As such, we look for and recruit students who present both. We also recruit these groups separately. There are funding possibilities available for both groups of students.”

East Stroudsburg and other regional public colleges are in a tough spot. Many don’t have very much aid to give, and most serve a higher percentage of needy students than more prestigious public flagship universities, which have more money from endowments, research and fundraising. It’s a common phenomenon in higher education – students with less money relegated to institutions with less money.

In Pennsylvania, as in most states, public higher education has faced steep cuts, especially since the most recent recession. Over the last five years, the state has cut funds for higher education by 18 percent. At public institutions, that’s worked out to about $2,000 less in state and local support per student — a 32 percentage-point drop, according to data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

“All the arrows point in a direction that shows what we are out doing now is raising revenue. The old business model has sort of broken down,” said Patrick Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute and formerly the head of state higher-education boards and commissions in Montana, Washington and California.

“There have probably been no winners from all of this,” Callan said. “But the biggest losers were those who were disadvantaged on the front end.”

In high school, Epps went by the nickname “Neeks” with most of her friends. They were a mixed group. Some, like her, fostered hopes of attending college. Others just wanted to finish school and get a job.

Though she loved high school, Epps said that looking back she realizes that despite her own efforts, she didn’t get the best education.

About a third of the students at her high school didn’t graduate. After she left, the school was among roughly two dozen shuttered by the chronically underfunded School District of Philadelphia.

“On a couple of levels, systems are failing these students,” said Ann-Therese Ortiz, who worked with Epps as director of pre-college programs at Philadelphia Futures. Low-income high-school students could put in the same effort as their better-resourced counterparts, but “even with the same effort, it simply doesn’t yield the same fruit. And then there’s limited access to the same opportunities, because they’re not receiving the same educational foundation that really opens those doors.”

Those disadvantages can also show up in test scores. A substantial body of research shows that SAT scores are strongly correlated with family income.

“How do you separate merit from privilege?” asked Jerome Lucido, a professor and executive director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice. “Merit needs to be tied to mission, not just who got a higher test score. We already know that has a direct correlation with family income.”

But the SAT and other tests are still crucial to how publications such as U.S. News & World Report and Barron’s formulate college rankings, which are widely regarded as measures of prestige.

Not surprisingly, colleges are constantly working to move up the lists. A prospective student flipping through Barron’s 1995 college-rankings guide would have found about 90 public institutions in the top three tiers of competitiveness and more than 170 in the less competitive or non-competitive tiers. In the 2013 guide, that top tier has grown by more than 40 colleges — about 46 percent — and the bottom tier has shrunk by 60.

“The whole system is constantly moving up, going upstream to get better and better students, and get students who can pay,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “It all looks great for the press release. But you’re systematically leaving people behind.”

Carnevale, who has authored many studies analyzing this shift, likens the state of higher education to “hospitals for healthy people,” competing for the easiest to treat, most lucrative patients, rather than taking on the cases of those who stand to benefit the most. “The question is, are you trying to reach down or not?”

Schools might argue they are — in a way.

Many state schools have in recent years struck what are called “articulation agreements” — partnerships with community colleges that make it easier for community-college students to transfer to a four-year school. In the last two years, Lincoln University has established such agreements with 11 community colleges.

But even with improved transfer pathways, there’s still an inherent risk for students like Epps who “undermatch,” or don’t attend the most selective school they can get into. Low-income, minority and first-generation students frequently undermatch, research shows, and in doing so, they often end up at institutions with less support and far lower graduation rates.

Without any aid from Lincoln or the other colleges that accepted her, Epps weighed her options and chose a different route. She recently completed her first year at the Community College of Philadelphia — a school where about half of full-time freshmen don’t return for a second year.

“In a way, four-year colleges are asking two-year colleges to do the dirty work of selecting who’s worthy of a four-year college,” the Pell Institute’s Tom Mortenson said. In doing so, four-year colleges are not “taking on the responsibility from the beginning when they’re freshmen and making a real commitment to these students.”

But colleges — even those with an explicit public mission — have mounting incentives to avoid students like Epps. Carnevale points to the dawning of what’s known as the “accountability movement” — an effort by states to reform higher education by tying funding for public colleges to student outcomes and graduation rates. Last month, President Barack Obama announced that the federal government would also be moving in a similar direction — and hopes to eventually tie federal aid to certain performance measures.

Unless policymakers build in some incentives to take on more students at the margins, the accountability movement could drive schools further away from low-income and minority populations, which have lower graduation rates overall, Carnevale said. “The whole logic of this industry — and the reform of it as well — excludes low-income and minority students.”

While colleges strive to enroll wealthier and better-performing students, the demographics of the nation’s high-school graduates are moving in a different direction: As a group, tomorrow’s high-school graduates will be more racially diverse and more low-income than today’s.

“There is a significant misalignment. And I think the misalignment’s going to continue to grow,” said David Tandberg, an assistant professor of higher education at Florida State University who previously worked in the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

“The public really, really benefits from a first-generation student going to college. All sorts of wonderful outcomes come from that,” Tandberg said.

A more educated workforce has widespread benefits: It leads to more earning power for those who graduate, a stronger tax base for the state, and greater potential for economic growth in the future.

Public universities have the task of “balancing institutional striving with the public’s needs,” Tandberg said, which “are often two very different things.”

Epps still remembers going out and buying a new button-down shirt, slacks and dress shoes the night before her high-school graduation. She remembers the nervousness she felt the next morning, and the tinge of sadness.

“I was going to miss my friends. We had been together for four years, and we were all going in different directions,” she said. “I didn’t know how life was going to turn out.”

At graduation, in her white cap and gown, she was the mistress of ceremonies, introducing each of the speakers and making sure the ceremony flowed. She read out the theme of the year’s graduation, a rephrasing of a Thoreau quote: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

She’s certainly trying. Community college started up again last week. Epps has already signed up for a full schedule of six classes.

A year from now, she hopes to transfer, finally, to a four-year state school and eventually to get a bachelor’s degree. She’s thinking she might want to study accounting.

Jonathan Lin contributed research to this article.

Chris Newfield

Sep. 11, 2013, 8:29 a.m.

many thanks for a great piece on the huge issue of the difficulty public colleges are having fulfilling the mission society actually wants them to. You do an excellent job identifying the trap these colleges have helped create for themselves. I don’t see any solution other than funding them properly with public money so they can focus on education rather than competing to scramble up a status ladder they can’t climb anyway.  I hope you keep working on this issue.

You know, it occurs to me that the debates around issues like these (“who deserves to be helped through college,” basically) might be because we don’t have a real mission statement from educational institutions.  For example, given a choice between a student who coasted through high school but graduated at the top of her class and a kid who worked hard to get a C because he had to work after school and didn’t grow up with a supportive family, who has more of a “right” to college?  That’s especially important in cases like what’s described here at public colleges.

The former student will probably make the school’s numbers look good and presumably “earned” the right (with little to no work), but the latter would get more of a benefit.

I’m not advocating one or the other, but until the people give some thought to an answer, these subsidiary questions of where to best assign the grants and loans just go in circles.

If I can make a recommendation to kids looking at colleges, though, it’d be to not overlook the opportunities in front of you.

Wall Street, academic research, and a few other industries may be obsessed with status, but I can’t think of a single job worth the cover letter where you’d have a better chance with an Ivy League degree than a portfolio of work.

So, if you want to be a writer, write, and remember that blogs are free and dealing with comments is a simple form of peer review.  If you want to be an animator, learn free software like Tupi, Pencil, and Blender.  If you want to study river ecology, build something like the OpenROV rover and start studying.

We live in a world where the plans to the kind of equipment that used to cost colleges thousands of dollars can be built at home for hundreds with free plans, and you can network easily with people who share your interests.  We also live in a world where you can find a high-quality, college-level course on nearly any topic for free online.

I’ve already seen this in software (my field), where I have friends and former students who have been rejected for jobs basically because they hadn’t worked on any Open Source projects.  After all, if the job has you working in a large group, the best way to judge that is work you’ve done with a large group that the public can view.

There’s an old idea of taking a “lifestyle job,” a low-stress position that pays just enough to fund whatever you want to do at night and on weekends.  I don’t recommend that, but I can definitely see a role for a “lifestyle education,” the cheapest degree you can find to get you past the HR people so that you can show an interviewer your real-world projects.

I suspect we’re seeing the beginning of the end of colleges as businesses, honestly.  A few have folded or sold themselves off already, and quite a few aren’t going to be able to pay off loans (to build new facilities and hire new executives) in the next five to ten years.  While that erosion is going on, you’ll also have the attack of free education at the other end.  It’s hard to “compete with free,” and the last century of “economics by leverage” that everybody still relies on doesn’t really work, anymore..

Excellent post, John. You’ve sent me off to explore many things.

the major problem with the public educational system is that schools are profit centers. Their primary goal is to make money, not educate and serve the needs to society.  Until that changes, these problems will not only exist, but continue to create more and more disparity in society as a whole.  We’ve all seen where that leads to in the long run in other countries and throughout history.

Is it just me, or is there something wrong in River City? I went to college-initially-in the 1970s, when the cost of an education, based on today’s dollars, was virtually nothing. I didn’t need financial aid because my parents, while not being rich by any means, were comfortable. Many of the students profiled do not even fit into that ‘comfortable’ category.
In California, the cost of a UC education has jumped into the mid-$20K per year.  My fellow students of the 1970s were paying barely $1K per year. Only one student I knew even needed financial aid from the school through its variety of programs.
The wealthy are using the system to their benefit, nothing new, eh?

We are doing this at the University of California, where our state funding has shrunk significantly.  Now we aggressively court international students, leaving many qualified California resident students out.

Russell Miller

Sep. 11, 2013, 2:49 p.m.

Many sad things are happening in the country and big money just has too much influence at every level.  Look at college athletics and the conference shuffle. Surely many problems exists, but….

I was financially emancipated in high school and worked for two years before college saving money and during college at a drive up liquor store till 2am to pay for college.  Let’s work on fixing the system, in the meantime get a job and work your way through even if it takes five years. Put that on your resume!

Bruce J Fernandes

Sep. 11, 2013, 2:50 p.m.

I wonder if there is any sense at all about simply accepting life’s limitations and make do with what is available to you.  When my grandmother died any opportunity I had in the 1970s to go to an Ivy League school died with her.  I showed some prowess at a fairly young age in the investment arena and my grandma knew I would need a pedigree in order to advance in any major investment bank.

Instead, I attended local junior college and then got a scholarship to a prestigious business school and became a CPA.  I worked for a Big 8 firm but hated it and worked in a regional firm before starting my own practice.  I invest my money for me and long ago gave up those dreams of working for a big investment banking firm because without the pedigree you don’t advance to the heights you might wish to advance to…...

My life has been full and I get the joy of managing my own money and none of the headaches and pressures of managing other people’s money.

Moral of the story is you can make a great life for yourself without having to go to the elite schools and these days running up significant six figure debts just to attend college.  I came out of college without one dime of debt.  That was the glory days in California where you attended junior college at zero tuition paying for books and student ID card only.

I say get over this nonsense of entitlement and play the hand you are dealt…. so you can’t go to the University system because of cost… go to a state school…. go to junior college for two years at even lower cost.  Work your way through school…. I worked at Toys R Us and talk about how hard it was to work til 2AM during Xmas season and then get up at 5AM to get into a gas line because gas was rationed in my day.

You don’t need to focus on debt to get through school.  You may need debt but choose a school and a realistic career goal that matches any debt forced upon you with expectations of what you can actually earn and while it will be difficult you will see light at the end of the tunnel after a few years of sacrifice….. yes sacrifice.  Let’s stop the sense of entitlement to large amounts of loans to attend schools and obtain degrees that make no sense in terms of career reality versus cost to train for said career opportunity.

I’m Swedish, so I don’t have the full US context but I’m interested in education policy and how it links to social mobility and from what I have seen in Sweden we have these problems even though our public universities are entirely subsidized. In fact, despite the lack of tuition fees, we have less diversity than many U.S. colleges. (namely Berkeley, UCLA, and several big Ivies)
Of course, this may just reflect that Sweden is a less diverse country but we see minority groups falling behind faster than ever. The Swedish government offers attractive loans with 2% interest to students to pay for food and housing so I would say that this inequity is not solely, and perhaps only marginally, financial. Rather, there are great socio-economic differences between geographical areas (I understand this is true in the U.S. as well) and this becomes very important as students in most cases are allocated their public primary and secondary education based on area of residence.
More endowed families will have more leverage in making sure that their children get a good education and schools in privileged areas will also be able to attract better teachers through more attractive salaries etc. It comes down to money again I suppose, but my point is that it’s not all about the tuition.

Today’s students seeking anything other than lab sciences can get most of their education from free sites.  What we need now is a way for students to “test out” of those courses they managed to learn online.

What I want to know is how wealthy do you need to be to get aid?  I’m not talking about grants but student loans.  My daughter and her husband make around $95,000 a year “gross”.  That hasn’t always been the story.  They ran into a really rough time 10 years ago and struggled for several years.  While applying for schools for their oldest they were told they made too much money to qualify for even a student “loan”.  Why is that?  Making $95,000 before taxes, health premiums and other withholding, then regular living expenses including house payments, car payment etc and still having 2 other children at home really doesn’t leave much.  Why aren’t regular student loans available to these kids?

The article says that Ms. Epps needs $4000 to attend school

$4000 is 12 weeks at the minimum wage during the summer.

What is the big deal here.  $4000 per year out of pocket is CHEAP!

She should get a summer job and ATTEND COLLEGE!

College is not free, it has a cost, and students need to do their fair share if their parents cannot contribute for whatever reason.

So how much of a grant did Shauniqua expect from her first choice, Lincoln University?

“All of the school’s own aid typically goes toward athletic or merit-based scholarships, regardless of students’ needs.”

This is a kid with a 3.8 GPA but combined SATs of 820! Ouch! That’s about the 20th percentile!

So is college her only hope for a decent future? Aren’t there good-paying union jobs for kids like Shauniqua?

Of course not!

“If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States,” said Candidate Obama!

But it was all a lie.

Thanks anon2; you beat me to it; $400/month working as we did back in the day part time (10 hours a week) during the school year would add another $300 a month - $3000 during the shool year….and being resident assisdtant may cover both housing and food for subsequent years.  She seems like a go-getter and I’m confident she can make it happen.

If anyone’s wondering where the money has gone, look to the financial sector.  Our government is going through a period of overwhelming influence from it now, and programs are adjusted to meet the banks hungry demands for profit. People aren’t worried about the “deficit”(or the money owed by the federal governments of the world to the global banking system), banks are.  So, social programs are squeezed to protect bank profit.  Look at it simply for what it in fact is. The banks need to be more regulated, not less.

Bruce J Fernandes

Sep. 11, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

We the people are to blame for bank profits.  The billions we cede over to banks in overdraft and other fees that can be avoided if we took a little extra time to make sure we have enough money in our checking account before we write checks or enough available credit on our credit cards before we try to charge with them.

I’m sure someone will say if we all were so responsible the banks would find some other way to make money off of us.  LET THEM TRY!!!  If they can find something of value we are willing to pay for have at it.  But the reality is if you bank with a credit union or a smaller bank in your community you generally get a better deal in terms of fees and you are treated a lot better than when you bank at these mega-banks.

All the anger after the financial crisis and the big banks got bigger because the depositors would not take their money and place it in local banks.  If you want a better local community you should bank locally and hope your local banker is more receptive to community needs…. a builder who wants to build a shopping center in an area underserved for example.

We have ourselves to blame when it comes to the financial sector because we have the power to send a simple message by moving our money…. but it has to happen en masse to matter and to show the big mega banks you cannot take advantage of us without recourse.

Epps has made a good decision to attend community college, still often one of the best values out there. At the same time, as a community college instructor, I see community college tuition rising very rapidly while schools scramble to serve growing numbers of students unprepared for college. What does this mean in the long run? More adjuncts teaching classes (part-time, temporary employees, often very qualified to teach), not enough academic support, and a rising underclass of college students who don’t make it in the community college system either. The US education system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

This article is misleading.  In the first two sentences of the article, the individual who serves as the main subject and example, Shauniqua Epps, is described as a “high achiever” and “the sort of student that so many colleges say they want.”  But those characterizations are simply false.

With a two-section SAT score of 820 she is neither high-achieving nor the sort of student that most colleges want or claim to want.  As has already been noted, that score puts her well below the 20th percentile of test-takers.  If her 3.8 GPA is on a 4.0 scale (the article doesn’t specify), the real implication is that the grading in her high school is extremely non-rigorous to the point of being utterly defective.

And for the icing on the cake, the interviews with the university administrators later in the article make it perfectly clear that Ms. Epps is, in fact, not the kind of student they even say they want to attract.  So I have a hard time understanding why the author leads with the assertion that Ms. Epps is the “sort of student that so many colleges say they want.”

Like everything else. It’s all about money. More for the few and less for the rest.

Bruce J Fernandes

Sep. 12, 2013, 7:55 a.m.

Unfortunately, one of the fundamental tenants of liberalism is the acceptance of mediocrity as a norm.  Achievement be damned!

This has resulted in allowing students like Shauniqua to be led to believe she can make it at a level of higher education she is more likely than not destined to fail.  Her best answer is two years of junior college where she can have the best chance to build skills that can give her the best chance at success in a four year school should she decide to move on.

She can get into a “for-profit” but my wife who worked at one of the large for-profits would tell you it is more expensive than junior college or state universities and the value of the education is highly questionable.  She was ultimately terminated when she vehemently complained about the quality of students being admitted in her classes and they were not ready for her classes and they did not prepare for classes; totally undisciplined students the college got federal aid for and then made sure the student stayed in class just long enough to keep the majority of college aid.

Unfortunately, the writer is putting forth their own opinion and anything to the contrary in today’s America makes any of us who offer such criticism racists and too judgmental.

When they say “combined SAT score” I think they mean the average, not the simple addition of the two scores.
This would put her in the 99th percentile group, which would be especially high for the African-american subgroup, so why would a traditionally black college not offer her a merit scholarship?

make public colleges an extension of the public k-12 education system in the US.  All students should be able to attend college, no matter their socioeconomic situation.  A rising sea will lift all boats.  Don’t make HS so final, graduation is celebrated like it’s the end of learning, preparation for college should not be an option “college credit course” but rather the intention of all high schools.

Bruce J Fernandes

Sep. 12, 2013, 3:54 p.m.


I would go a different direction and make trade schools an extension of k-12. 

We all grew up with kids who you knew just were not going to be college bound.  These kids were lost and if they could find something they love to do like repair cars or cook….. I would say something that doesn’t result in everyone looking to trades like construction which are highly cyclical and in these economic times represent a huge cross section of the 3M unemployed because of a lack of skills needed in today’s economy.

All students should be able to attend college but all students should not be college bound because you just know there are kids heading in that direction.

We have a real severe shortage of qualified auto techs.  A well known school in AZ charges a lot for their program and they place every student and if they had more students they could place them too.

We have to look to our cousins in Britain.  They have always had trade schools so that kids who were not academically oriented could find a career possibility in trade schools.

Our society has really set up millions of kids for the big fall when you encourage them to go to college, take out huge amounts of student debt and then you look at their degree choice and ask the question….. how can they ever repay that debt given their career choice?

The answer is not forgiving debt after so many years of good faith repayment.  That does not get us to a place where students and parents have to get real about the cost and the benefit of attending college.

Unrestrained college costs is one of several ways by which the US has actually been transitioning into something more like a feudal state. Only the elite will have access to higher education, with the peasants effectively thinned out to maintain the shrinking production/service needs of the better off. Sort of like workfare labor expanded to the wider public. Just think about it: We took all the policies that brought the US to its height of shared wealth AND productivity since WWll, and reversed course in the 1980s and ‘90s. What did we expect?

Bruce J Fernandes

Sep. 13, 2013, 7:55 a.m.

Without government intervention, college costs would be restrained by market pressures.  Government doesn’t subsidize consumers to purchase Coca Cola…... OK they subsidize the sugar for political benefit to a few but they don’t give us grants or loans to buy a Coca Cola to drink.

Fabian, I now have a better understanding of differences between people who live their lives with optimism and those that don’t and why people look to government for solutions instead of looking to themselves for THE solution for them.

I believe when the history of this era is written it will be about the western nations having to take a huge hit to middle class wellbeing, income, opportunities, etc. in return for creating middle classes all over the world.  Surely no one believes US could or would continue to manufacture everything consumed by the world’s consumers in the US.

The term outsourcing has been bastardized in a manner that suggest we could continue to build everything from autos to toothpicks to textiles domestically and ship it all abroad.  In order to create middle classes all over the world you need to provide jobs in those countries and shifting manufacturing was inevitable.  Labor cost differentials start out very wide but have tightened in countries like China.

We are finding that some products are so much cheaper to produce in America again jobs are being brought home.  In other words, the last 30 years has been about achieving a certain equilibrium in the middle classes all over the world translating into enormous pain for European and western countries.

Peasants….. feudal state….. that’s a bit much.  Reality….. reality is too many people make bad choices in their lives and you cannot make too many bad choices without destroying your best chance and opportunities.  Politicians of a certain party blame everyone else for the problems of the underclass and see the only solution as creating a permanent underclass wholly dependent on government.  Until the individual empowers and believes in themselves and figures out the right direction for their lives and believes they can make it on their own nothing will ever change.

There is not enough money in the world to do all the things for all the people that believers in government believe should be done.

Mitch Heidleberg

Sep. 13, 2013, 10:43 a.m.

The most glaring problem, one that is painfully evident and yet conveniently overlooked in this story is this: how can someone with a “combined SAT score of 820 on math and critical reading” acheive a 3.8 GPA in high school? With a combined SAT score of 820, you barely deserve admission to a community college, never mind a taxpayer funded free ride to a four year college.  If you get below a 1000 on your SATs you should nto even qualify for finacial aid.  Sending dummies to college on the taxpayers dime is NOT tyhe solution to anything.  Fix the damn inner city public schools and teach the students how to read, write and perfom essential math functions.  But that is impossible in America where we short change K-12 education in right to work states and teachers unions control what happens in other states.  What a joke!


You write: “When they say “combined SAT score” I think they mean the average, not the simple addition of the two scores. This would put her [score of 820] in the 99th percentile group…”

You are incorrect.

First, by convention, combined SAT scores are reported as the sum of the sub-section scores, not the average of the sub-section scores.  Check out any publication from the U.S. News and World Report college guide on down to verify that.

Second, SAT sections are scored on a 200-800 scale.  See: It would thus be mathematically impossible to receive an average score of 820 over two sections; 820, again, being Ms. Epps’ “combined score.” However, it would be entirely feasible to obtain an additive score of 820 over two sections.  Clearly, that’s what happened.

As previously noted, a two-section score of 820 correlates with the ~20th percentile of test-takers.  I have a hard time believing that that is the sort of student that four-year colleges “say they want” so badly, as the author suggests.  Especially given the interviews with college administrators that appear later in the article where those administrators say, straight up, that those are not the kinds of students they want to attract with their aid dollars. 

So, again, the article begins with, and is founded upon, an entirely misleading premise.

Bruce J Fernandes

Sep. 13, 2013, 11:20 a.m.


We have been debating the state of k-12 education for the last 40 years and while I agree with you nothing is going to happen when a CA governor is too afraid to go up against the teachers’ unions.  Jerry Brown was in a position to do this and he backed away.  In Chicago, Mayor Emmanuel also backed off.

Nothing will change until parents re-engage with their schools.  When I went to school the PTA was a real thing with a lot of parent participation and the parents were the ones who held teacher’s feet to the fire.  They demanded a better education now.  Today, parents have concluded they are too busy with career or just trying to make it day to day and drop their kids and pick them up as if it was daycare.

Parents of my generation desperately wanted their kids to succeed; go to college; make something of themselves.  However, I have to say I lived in a time when my father made enough money to take care of his family.  My mom worked but they banked her entire salary so the stresses of today’s families were not as prevalent back then.

I like the idea of linkage of junior college with high school to take some of these kids on the cusp and perhaps inject them with some skills so they can succeed at junior college and then.. maybe pursue a four year school.

I am not willing to write-off an 820 math SAT.  I scored 1,050 on math years ago but I was a “C” student in math from 8th grade all through high school…. I just didn’t get it.  I had to do two remedial math courses (take a step backwards) in JC until the light finally came on…. I was able to get “A” in every math course the rest of my college career and I needed math for my profession of choice.

So don’t write off that 820 but redirect this student to JC.  If she makes it great and if not the public investment (grants and loans) we all know will be provided to a student like this anyway…. would be limited and minimized to two years JC if in the end she just can’t cut it.

What an interesting and important look at the way financial aid is being distributed at some colleges today, thank you.

This is anecdotal, but I when I applied for colleges in 2006 (so before the recession hit) as a student who was from the bottom quartile of family income with good grades, good test scores, and a full set extracurricular activities, the aid letters I received from the universities I was accepted to really surprised me. After I did the math, it was more expensive for me to go to the in-state public schools where I was accepted than it was to go to the private schools where I was accepted.

For both sets of schools, I received a federal grant package (Academic Competitiveness Grant, SEO Grant, Pell Grant), some federal loans, and an outside award.  Although the two state schools did offer me a modest academic scholarship, it still left me with a few thousand dollars in tuition to pay, plus other expenses. On the other hand, all of the private schools (all of which had more competitive admissions than the state schools, but were not among the uber-elite, deep-pocketed universities in the U.S.) offered grants and scholarships that more than paid for my tuition. 

I ended up attending one of the large private universities I was accepted to, and I feel that was a good decision.  I was worried, after hearing from other friends, of what they called the “bait-and-switch” financial aid where schools offer better packages the first year or two of study, then drop their aid significantly in the next years.  But instead the university increased their aid (EFC about the same each year) over my four years of study, including extending additional scholarship money when federal grants were up after my sophomore year. 

With the school I chose, I was aware that I was being, at least in some ways, subsidized by students who were paying full tuition but may not have come in with as strong of an academic record.  I don’t know if this is a desirable or even sustainable model, but I consider myself very fortunate to have received the help.

Excellent article but there is nothing wrong with a school trying to get into the next tier.

The problem is we have dummied down the Grammer school curriculum and put in a lot of unnecessary stuff instead of focusing on the basics, memorization & rote and homework.

When I was the first from my family to go to college there was only a student loan and a job.  I did menial work since I was 16 & worked full time vs part time during summer & spring break.  Where is the work component in determining if you go full time or part time this semester.  My husband worked 40 hrs plus took a full course load

If you want it, work for it

clarence swinney

Sep. 14, 2013, 12:33 p.m.

Loves and Fishes Closed. For years it supplied food at several loctions to truly needy. Alamance County NC has 180 churches and many millionaires. 145,000 population,
What would Christ do?

Marvin S. Robinson, II

Sep. 14, 2013, 2:07 p.m.

V.R.A.P. needs an in-depth investigative article done about the way the VA is allowed to keep Veterans from meaningful jobs training certification with their out dated “parochial”  FATHER - MOTHER, knows best syndrome.
They denied me, NON Profit Management Leadership Training Certification, at 4 year University, because, they offer a Bachelors degree.
But they would approve me to go to a Acting School, or Barber, or Nail Technician, or Heating and Cooling, or multitudes of On-Line courses, even-though, I have years of community service volunteer efforts.
Marvin S. Robinson, II
Quindaro Ruins / Underground railroad- Exercise 2013

clarence swinney

Sep. 19, 2013, 4:46 p.m.

Obama has kept one promise
Obama campaigned on cutting Bush Deficit of 1400B by half in his first term.
It appears it will be 642B on 9-30-13 or end of his fourth budget.
Spending cuts helped but big item was increase in Revenues.
EXPENDITURES-(3777 Billion)
Social Security-Unemployment-Labor-33%
Medicare-Health Care—25%
Interest 5%
Vet Benefits-4%
Education- 2%
Energy % Environment-1%
International Affairs-1%
Government 1%

REVENUE—(3033 Billlion)
Individual Income Tax-46%
Payroll Tax—34%
Misc 5%
Custom duties—1%

Deficit-744 Billion—(2008 Budget last one under 1000B Deficit)
Recall fuss over Bush not budgeting two wars? 20143 Budget does not include Afghan War funding
Why cannot we pay our way with a 14,000B Income and 3777 outlays? Simple. Most of Income is at top and they have power ($$$$) to control Congress. Yes! They pay Most but lesser part (%) of income.

Ms. Epps should apply for scholarships. Lots of scholarship money gets left on the table every year because students do not apply for it. There is a lot of scholarship money available; I would think Philadelphia Futures would be able to steer her in the right direction.

Community college, too, is a fine choice for the first two years. Studying there first will help her refine her study skills and strengthen her weak areas.

And, yes, she can work her way through as well. It’s not an option many consider today, but it will become a more considered option as time goes on and too many graduate with onerous loans.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
College Debt

College Debt

Total outstanding college debt is estimated at $1 trillion dollars – and with costs still soaring, the burden on students and their families shows no signs of abating. We're examining how the complicated system of college debt is putting the squeeze on families.

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