Pell Grants and Ivy League Hypocrisy

The most emailed story in The New York Times on Monday focused on Berea College, a little school in Kentucky with a heart of gold.

The college charges no tuition and only accepts low-income teenagers. Every student graduates with no debt. Not surprisingly, the school is mobbed every year with applicants.

Berea is dedicated to accomplishing what a lot of elite schools with multi-billion-dollar endowments give lip service to doing: providing promising teenagers from disadvantaged families a free college education.

Schools like Harvard, Yale and other elites have gotten kudos for providing free college educations for poor students, but the praise is misplaced. Why? Because most elite schools admit very few of these kids. The proxy used to measure how many lower-income students attend a school is the percentage who receive federal Pell Grants, which are usually awarded to families making less than $40,000 a year. According to the Education Trust’s figures, the percentage of students at Harvard and Princeton’s who receive Pell Grants is 8.4% and 8.5%. In comparison, 38.1% of UCLA’s students receive Pell Grants. At Berea, 81% of the students qualify for Pell Grants.

In discussing this phenomenon in my book, The College Solution, I quote the president of St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, who made this observation about the stinginess of the nation’s mightiest universities. Here’s what he said:

“The wealthiest colleges and universities — those that can best afford the financial aid necessary to enroll a large number of low-income students — in fact enroll the smallest percentage of such students.”

Maybe some day the higher ed big boys will be shamed into doing the right thing.

Further Reading:

Watch Out for That Financial Aid Surprise

Will Saving for College Penalize My Chances for Financial Aid?

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  1. The sour grapes from Jane in the larger context: most Berea College students will graduate with some student loan debt, but it will be much, much less than their peers at Eastern Kentucky University, University of Kentucky, or most other public or private schools.

    The larger questions that every student and parent should be asking: why aren’t their more schools like Berea College? With almost $50 billion in its endowment, why doesn’t Harvard just create 20-30 colleges based on Berea College’s over 150 year proven formula?

  2. Don’t be fooled by the what sounds too good to be true Berea. The truth is if is sounds too good to be true then it probably isn’t true. Berea likes to lure in its students by the free tuition slogan; in reality there is no such thing as free any more. The “students will leave college debt free” is a nice sentence to look at, but to bad that isn’t how Berea College works. Every student is guaranteed a term bill that is to be raised $250 every year along with what the EFC is. As if that isn’t enough, we have these fees to look forward to every semester. Also attached is the free lap top fee we have to pay, two health care charges we have to pay that doesn’t count for anything except a cold. Hidden fees are also applied such as class coast that the college fails to mention when you sign up for the class. The outrageous rumors of Berea College needs to stop immediately! Some student my think they are getting the better deal by going to this “Free School” when in reality they got lured in here with lies and fall into financial debt!