A report by the New America Foundation details the systematic undermining of the financial aid system by colleges and universities who are using financial aid to attract wealthy students rather than open doors for poorer ones, forcing poorer students to either not attend or take on high debt burdens.

Undermining Pell presents a new analysis of little-examined U.S. Department of Education data showing the “net price” — the amount students pay after all grant aid has been exhausted — for low-income students at thousands of individual colleges.

The analysis shows that hundreds of public and private non-profit colleges expect the neediest students to pay an amount that is equal to or even more than their families’ yearly earnings. As a result, these students are left with little choice but to take on heavy debt loads or engage in activities that reduce their likelihood of earning their degrees, such as working full-time while enrolled or dropping out until they can afford to return.

The analysis finds that the financial hurdles are highest in the private nonprofit college sector, where only a few dozen exclusive colleges meet the full financial need of the low-income students they enroll. Nearly two-thirds of the private institutions analyzed charge students from the lowest-income families, those making $30,000 or less annually, a net price of over $15,000 a year.

So where does the aid money go?

As more states cut funding for their higher education systems, public colleges are increasingly adopting the enrollment management tactics of their private college counterparts — to the detriment of low-income and working-class students alike.

Overall, too many four-year colleges, both public and private, are failing to help the government achieve its college access mission. They are instead using their financial resources to fiercely compete for the students they most desire: the “best and brightest” students — and the wealthiest.

Colleges are using so called “merit aid” to attract wealthier students who have access to better preparatory programs rather than pursuing the previous goal of using financial aid to assist poorer students in paying for higher education. Rich students now get that money as poorer students are forced to drop out or go heavily into debt and take on precarious time consuming jobs to be educated. Two Americas indeed.

And so another door closes in the land of opportunity. Given how incredibly rigged this system is from the college boards to the banks should we really be surprised that America has lost the American Dream as Canada and Europe have become the real lands of opportunity? Just work harder (and harder and harder) proles. That carrot is just in front of you.

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