Letter to the New York Times

March 20, 2007

Letters to the Editor
New York Times

Re: Column, "The Education Gap," September 26

To the Editor:

David Brooks misses the single largest contributing factor to the education gap between low-income students and their high-income peers, when he says that “Given the rising flow of aid money, financial barriers are not the main issue” (“The Education Gap,” column, Sept. 26). According to the congressionally created Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, millions of academically prepared students from low-income and working families will be shut out of college over the next 10 years unless the federal government and states reinvest in their need-based student aid programs. The committee found that finances are a huge barrier, even for students from low-income families who are among the most qualified to attend four-year colleges.

Federal funding for Pell Grants and other need-based aid has virtually stagnated for five years. The budget outlook for student aid—even before the unexpected spending on hurricane relief—is projected to only worsen over the next five years. Despite significant funding increases in the late ’90s, the value of the Pell Grant—the cornerstone program for needy students—has not kept up with the Consumer Price Index over the past 25 years.

Our colleges and universities are doing their part to overcome the financial barriers faced by needy students. Twenty years ago, students at private colleges and universities received equal amounts of grant aid from the federal government and from institutions themselves. Today, students receive more than four times as much grant aid from private colleges as from the government—$10.2 billion vs. $2.4 billion. Over the last decade, private institutions have increased their institutional aid budgets at nearly twice the rate of tuition increases—142 percent vs. 72 percent.

Despite their commitment, the efforts of these colleges will not be enough to ensure access for the coming influx of academically qualified but needy students. Equal educational opportunity, and the economic strength and social fabric of our nation, will largely rest on whether Congress and the administration change course and reinvest in student financial aid. For the sake of aspiring students and America’s future prosperity, I hope they do.


David L. Warren, President
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities


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