In the United States, the stratification of college choice by family income persists—even in light of the investment elite colleges and universities make in student aid. Low-income students are far more likely to enroll in one of the nation’s private for-profit or two-year colleges than in one of its most selective institutions, private or public.
A recent analysis from Penn GSE explored how institutional financial aid influences the college choices of this population. With a particular emphasis on schools that have eliminated the use of loans for low-income students, the study homed in on communicative strategies with a review of the websites of each no-loan school.
Among the colleges and universities with generous aid policies, the authors struggled to find information about aid packages. "One of the most striking findings from our review of institutional websites," they write, "was how difficult it was for our team of five individuals with a high degree of knowledge of higher education to tell if an institution had a no loan policy."
Assuming that these institutions find the benefits of enrolling more low-income students to be worth the cost of expensive aid packages, the authors suggest several remedies: more effective and more targeted communication strategies (both for students and their school counselors); additional staff to provide support through the financial aid process; partnerships with pre-college programs; and post-enrollment support for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
In addition, institutions might do well to consider the limits of no-loan policies and, rather, consider putting "a thumb on the scale" for this population—much as they do for underrepresented minorities, children of alumni, and athletes.
"Showing Them the Money: The Role of Institutional Financial Aid Policies and Communication Strategies in Attracting Low-Income Students," by Laura Perna, Valerie Lundy-Wagner, April Yee, Leykia Brill, and Teran Tadal, appears in Recognizing Social Class and Serving Low-Income Students in Higher Education: Institutional Policies, Practices, and Culture, edited by Adrianna Kezar.
Also from Laura Perna
Using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems, Laura Perna et al. examined the status of equity for Hispanic students in public higher education institutions in Florida and Texas. Their analysis revealed substantial inequities across the board—in student enrollment, full-time faculty, and administrative and managerial staff. "The Status of Equity for Hispanics in Public Higher Education in Florida and Texas," by Laura Perna, Chunyan Li, Erin Walsh, and Stephanie Raible, appears in Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 9(2).