Pa. colleges criticized over low-income aid

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A study released this week says colleges' pricing and aid policies are endangering the advancement of low-income and working-class students into the middle class. And once again, Pennsylvania public campuses found themselves on the high side of prices.

The New America Foundation analysis of federal "net price data" -- the cost to attend after grants and other aid are factored in -- noted that the situation is most pronounced among private nonprofit colleges, with only a few dozen exclusive campuses able to shoulder a student's entire financial need.

Nearly two-thirds of private schools examined by the foundation charged students from families making $30,000 or less a net price exceeding $15,000 annually. Poorest schools, the study found, often enroll the most students with incomes low enough to qualify for federal Pell Grants but then charge them high net prices because of a lack of financial resources, even as the same campuses discount tuition for wealthier students who are seen as necessary for a school's viability, the foundation reported.

Public higher education generally fared better, with about two-thirds of campuses examined enrolling substantial numbers of low-income students at net prices of $10,000 or below. But the foundation said in states, including Pennsylvania, where public support of higher education has waned, public campuses increasingly use financial aid to entice what the foundation called "the best and brightest" students.

It said in North Carolina, a state with lower campus prices, low-income students paid an average net price of $5,361 a year, while in Pennsylvania low-income students paid a net price more than double that: $12,305.

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