“Planning Issues: Access and Affordability”

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September 2004


Anna Griswold, Assistant Vice Provost for Enrollment Management and Student Aid

Donald Heller, Associate Professor of Education and Senior Research Associate, Center for the Study of Higher Education

Terrell Jones, Vice Provost for Educational Equity

Important issues that impact strategic planning at Penn State , and specifically the recruitment and retention of students, are the access and affordability of postsecondary education. Three Penn State experts shared information on current financial aid trends, research and practices.

Donald Heller began the discussion by presenting several graphs that illustrated the discrepancies in college participation rates by income, race, and academic achievement. He provided information about the dramatic discrepancy between the rates of change in tuition and the ability to pay for college, and the relative decreases in federal and state financial aid, that have occurred between 1980 - 2003.

Also distressing is the fact that the highest growth in merit-based aid has occurred for students from families in the top quartile of income (earning $82,000 and greater).

In the final analysis, we are left with the question of how to meet the escalating financial aid needs that will occur over the next decade. It is estimated that by the year 2015 we will have 700,000 more students than are presently enrolled in the nation’s colleges and universities.

Donald Heller’s presentation: [PDF]

Anna Griswold brought the discussion closer to home by presenting figures for the cost of Penn State’s tuition, fees, room and meals, which had doubled for a PA resident between 1994 and 2004.

“We face a major challenge of affordability at Penn State and across the country for middle and lower-income students over the next decade,” said Griswold.

Graphs of several years of trends were shown that indicated the increasing number of Penn State students who receive financial aid; the changes in parental income of aid recipients; the increasing average loan debt of graduates; the declining purchasing power of Pell grants and PHEAA state grants; and the phenomenal growth in private loans to meet the gap.

A rather distressing figure is that the “gap” between unmet need and met need for low income in-state students has more than doubled in the past two years, from $2,000 to $4,700. Similarly, for middle-income in-state students, the gap has increased from $5,300 to $7,900.

What are colleges and universities doing to address these issues? An effort by the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill is commendable. Called the “Carolina Covenant,” the program targets the lowest income students and meets their full need with grants. Implementing a similar package at Penn State , however, would cost $62 million (UNC’s cost was $1.4 million). Griswold plans to break this figure down by college/campus to facilitate the creation of “covenants” at the unit level.

Anna Griswold’s presentation. [PDF]

Terrell Jones suggested that there are three myths that no longer hold true:

  • Most students who are motivated and willing to work hard in school can go to college.
  • Academic qualifications are most responsible for keeping high school graduates out of college.
  • Very few students who are qualified can’t go to college and attain a bachelor’s degree if they have the ambition.

“In fact,” said Jones, “there are significant numbers of well-qualified students who can’t afford to go to college, or who attend and have considerable financial problems.”

Other observations made by Jones:

  • Many low and middle-income students and their parents have unrealistic financial aid expectations.
  • Many low and middle-income students are making college choice decisions with little knowledge or understanding of financial aid realities.
  • We have reached a point when Bunton/Waller grants and/or scholarships will not be a financial incentive for low and middle-income minority students to attend Penn State .

Terrell Jones’s presentation. [PDF]


During the Q&A that followed, it was noted that Penn State is increasing its scholarship programs for the neediest students through Office of Development activities.

It was also mentioned that Penn State ’s financial aid Web page has a link to a financial aid calculator that will help prospective Penn State students and their parents evaluate financial aid possibilities.

Dennis Shea, department head and professor in the Department of Health Policy and Administration, commented that his department is looking at partnering more with private industry for student support.  Since many Penn State students work at jobs in bars or restaurants to pay for their education, a program that offered them a job more in keeping with their career plans (hospitals, physician offices, nursing homes, etc., for students in HPA) that could help them pay through a co-op or traineeship model would be beneficial.  The federal government has a new program that supports High Growth Job Training Initiatives and the development of the I- 99 Innovation Corridor would offer some possibilities to partner for a project that would benefit students, the university and businesses in the area. 

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.