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Survey: College admissions favor the wealthy

Colleges are admitting increasing numbers of less-qualified students who can pay their own way.

By MSN Money Partner Sep 23, 2011 1:15PM

This post comes from Matt Brownell at partner site MainStreet.


Financial aid, at its best, allows disadvantaged students access to educational opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable due to prohibitively high costs. But a survey suggests colleges increasingly steer clear of these needier students, instead giving preference to those who would be able to pay tuition without financial aid.


The disturbing news comes from a survey of 462 college admissions officers conducted by the online publication Inside Higher Ed. More than a third of admissions officers surveyed reported that their institution had increased its focus on recruiting "full-pay" students, or those who won't require financial aid. Post continues after video.

And the admissions strategy judged most important by admissions officers -- especially those at public schools -- was to recruit more out-of-state students who pay higher fees than locals at public institutions.


That's not to say universities are getting greedy; rather that they're facing tough economic decisions like most people and organizations struggling to survive in a slow economy, and are having to change the way they do business to keep afloat. (Are you saving enough for college? Try MSN Money's calculator.)


"The interest in full-pay students is so strong that 10% of four-year colleges report that the full-pay students they are admitting have lower grades and test scores than do other admitted applicants," Inside Higher Ed reports. And a quarter of admissions officers said they'd felt pressure from a trustee or higher-ranking administrator to admit certain applicants.


Rich vs. poor

Previous surveys conducted by the publication found that universities are increasing their aid budgets in response to trying financial times, and many have increased their discount rate -- that is, how much financial aid is granted to those who need it. But the schools also say this discount-rate increase is unsustainable given the institutions' finances. The solution preferred by the colleges, it seems, is to admit fewer students who actually need financial aid and thereby stay within a tighter budget.


The result is that colleges admit increasing numbers of less-qualified students who can pay their own way and turn away qualified applicants who can't.


It's a state of affairs poised to hurt those most in need of a college education. Studies have shown that education remains the single biggest factor in determining a worker's ultimate earning potential, and that children raised in middle-class families -- unlikely to be able to afford the sky-high-and-rising tuition at many schools -- are much more likely to drop out of the middle class if they don't go to college.


Obviously colleges, particularly public ones, are feeling the economic pinch like everyone else. But if their solution is to get in the habit of turning away poor kids while recruiting the lucky few who can afford college, the already huge gap between rich and poor will only become larger in the long run.


More on MainStreet and MSN Money:

Sep 23, 2011 3:15PM
They accuse Obama of trying to incite a class war with his bill asking that the rich pay more taxes.  Seems to me the class war already started and this proves it.  It's not so much the decrease in aid to needy students, it's allowing mediocre students into college simply because they can self pay. It used to be that college was for the good students who studied and word hard at academics. Now colleges are so intent with making money that they allow in kids with poor grades who never would have had a chance before.  The value of our college degrees is decreasing at a steady rate.   
Sep 24, 2011 9:04AM
There are too many colleges and too many people attending them and WAY too much being being spent on the whole futile exercise. We need more targeted vocational training. The vast majority of kids don't have the potential to be anything other than ordinary but in PC land we fill their heads with silly fantasies. How often do you run into these "students" that are 28 years old (definitely not med students) that are running around with a back pack and an iPod like they have any chance of getting a degree and being productive? Its more like an adult/work avoidance program. Reach for the stars! Please.

I run into 20 something college grads all the time and its amazing how many of them can barely write and articulate at a 5th grade level. How much did you spend on that education, kid? Yikes. You would have been better off becoming a plumber or an electrician. 

Sep 24, 2011 6:24AM

To be honest I am somewhat conflicted on this subject. On one hand, why shouldn't the people who can afford to pay for the prodcut/service be allowed to to so. On the other hand, I do think more medicore students are entering college. However, if you think that only applies to those that can pay, you are in denial. There are plenty of students getting aid that have no business in college as well.


A recent article in a local paper (Rochester, NY) stated that 2000 students who attended 5 local colleges received a total of $93 million dollars in state aid, only to drop out after the first year. I see that as a complete waste of money, a very bad investment. I am sure this aid was granted based on need, not probability of success/completion.


It would seem to make more sense to base aid on the students likelihood of being successful and less on their parent's ability to pay. This would ensure that the best students get to attend and the lowest cost. But the system doesn't work that way.


The class warfare is also a by-product of lower performing, higher need students, get dispropotionately more aid, than high performing, perhaps less needy (middle class) students. More focus should be placed on performance and less on need. That is if you are looking to maximize the return on investment.



Sep 24, 2011 9:48AM


I would suggest that if you or I had been born in Mexico, we would still be living in the United States.  Hopefully legally, but........   People that desire a better life, find a way.

Now,  I fully understand the value of education.  I have 2 undergrad, and 1 advanced degree.  I also have a different perspective on the education system than most.  I think it fails absolutely, but not for reasons most think.  Our schools systems are designed to teach 3 things.  And not the 3 you would expect.  They teach punctuality (show up when the bell rings, stay till it rings again), rote repetition (what did you do differently after roughly third grade?), and mindless obedience to orders!  And the result is the majority are prepared for work in the factory..........that no longer exists!  Our schools teach children how to function in an industrial culture that began disappearing in the early '60's.  The current technological age has taken over and will marginalize more and more people because they are simply not prepared for it.  Or think we will go so far backwards that manufacturing will somehow return to America.  So how do we change an entire culture within the education system?  How can a teacher, trained to function in an industrial society, teach children how to function in the modern world?  Think the problem might be far worse than people realize?

Sep 24, 2011 8:50AM

College is over rated.


 I make $70K/year driving long haul, I get medical, dental, retirement,  etc. etc., I get 8 days vacation every other month, and my house on beautiful Bull Shoals Lake is paid for...


......and this is just what I do now....


In the past I have started and ran five different types of small businesses, sold three at a profit, and ran the other two at a fair wage rate..


Other than a piece of paper a degree means squat.  I probably have more business management ability than most with a masters fresh out of any university...

Sep 24, 2011 8:00AM

The problem with colleges is the the costs have increased way more than the rate of inflation or wage growth.  Something like 14% a year in the NYS SUNY system.  I graduated in the late 80's the cost was 1,350 per year for Tuition and now it's $6,730.  Wages however have only about doubled in the same time frame.  My question is why.  The professors are making  about double, the janitors wages only doubled etc.... where is all this extra money going?


Why should the government use my money to pay for a person to go to college when that person either isn't smart enough, or doesn't work hard enough, to get a scholarship?


As to the comment above the answer is that it is in the best interest of the United States of America to have a highly educated population.  The GI bill was probably some of the best money our country ever spent.  The SUNY system has educated and made it possible for tens of millions of middle class people to attend colleges that they otherwise would not have been  able to do.


This line of thinking taken far enough would also eliminate funding for public schools.  That by the way is the norm in some countries like Mexico where a child has to pay tuition  to attend grade school or simply stay home.


I read once that one of the reasons the USA was so successful in the 20th century is that we were one of the first countries to institute free and public education.  Public Universities are a extension of this concept.


So to the extent that we pay as a society to educate our young people we win.  Is is after all these same young that will carry us when we age.  We  need them to succeed to keep the USA afloat for the next generation and beyond.


One other thing.  We are assuming that if someone only completes say 2 years of school instead of 4 or drops out in his or her 3rd year that the money has been wasted.  However assuming the classes they took are good they still gained 3 years of learning that they will apply in life.



Sep 24, 2011 8:47AM

Of course, college is a big business not more no less, they are after MONEY...thats it.

They always have been, people do not realize that this are just profit center and the market

programs, MBA's and more just to make MONEY....

Sep 24, 2011 9:49AM
Across the board in almost every state, the GOP is attacking education any way they can. The purpose is to create a generation of under-educated citizens that are more malleable to indoctrination. If you concentrate all the wealth into the top 1%, you have to make sure the population is ignorant and easily cowed. Otherwise they'll revolt.

Taxing the ultra-wealthiest, and coincidentally, the most corrupted group on the Planet, WAS blocked by their employees: the entire GOP.

This is what happens when you have three GOP idiots as President who were drunken-sailor-spending, warmongering "laissez faire" economic wonder boys (Reagan, GHWB, and the most incompetent criminal-idiot ever in the White House, GWB).

The GOP is no longer a political party and has not been one for 3 decades.

What the GOP is today is a wall-street owned and elitist managed CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE!!

Sep 24, 2011 9:48AM
The Republicans want the American Dream to only be available to the wealthy (the new aristocrisy) while the middleclass (the new poor) are left to toil as wage-slaves and serfs.
Sep 24, 2011 10:39AM
yes the colleges favor the rich. they have more money for the colleges to suck out of. rich kids have rich parents who can donate large sums to guarantee their child graduates with honors. they are always looking for the big donation.
Sep 24, 2011 8:49AM

Having paid for two kids I can say no kidding my kids did well very proud but classmates not so good  did not have financial aid but parent loans they are both doing great one with MBA the other Teaching very proud but it did put a sting in the pocket!!!!!!


Sep 24, 2011 8:40AM

To: southern home builder


I suppose the argument could be made and it is the classic libertarian viewpoint that says something along the line that my personal gain is mine alone and it should not be taken away from me to pay for things that I don't agree with.  i.e. taking my money is akin to forcing me to be your slave.  A perfectly valid worldview but doesn't take into account the thought that your success hinges on the larger society around you. 


I assume from your login that your in construction and so am I.  I build commercial buildings working for a large electrical contractor in the NE.  If you or I had been born into a country like Mexico and pursued the same career path we would be poor and live in shack house.  Not because we worked less hard or were inherently less intelligent but because we were placed in a society without all of the blessings of the USA.


Now some of these 'blessings' are a result of us as a people collectively giving up some of our labor in the form of taxes to create the infrastructure possible to make us one of the most productive people on earth.  This of course includes things like roads and brides, power lines and generating stations etc...  But is also includes education of our citizens. 


So I believe that to the extent (and a limited extent at that) that the government fosters an educated citizen by taxation if necessary, then we all make more money in the end.  I was in Juarez last year and our mission group hired this very talented mason and paid him $125 per week (way above what he was making) to work with us.  He was thrilled to have the work, but at night like all the other masons he went home to live in a shack in the Colonia.


Cross the border into El Paso and the same mason lives in a middle class home, owns a automobile and sends his kids to college partly on our dime.  Money well spent in my book.

Sep 24, 2011 9:27AM
People want free everything, free health care, free child care, free grammar school, free high school, free collage.  Free equals, someone else pays the bill.  Or inflation wipes us all out, which is where we may be now. There is a trip point for inflation, after which it's out of control   What's free to one is tax to another.
Sep 24, 2011 11:44AM
I'm all with CYN; class warfare has been waging for years! This only seals the deal; of course colleges want wealthy students whose parents can pay the bill and leave a healthy legacy in funding for the school. At my alma mater this was indeed the case.

However, there are alarming rates of people entering college (and for that matter, graduating grade and/or high schools) without the necessary skills for success. In my city, kids from schools who barely graduate are guaranteed admission at the local, famous university, where they take remedial English, math, science, and history classes to meet the bare minimum standards. Their tuition is paid for with tax dollars and the vast majority end up dropping out before completion of any sort of even associates degree. What a waste!

I received a full scholarship to university. However, when the recession hit in 2009, my state decided to slash educational spending and thus my scholarship money was halved. University was ridiculously expensive, and coming from a lower middle class family, I was working three part time jobs while going to school full time, always on Deans List. I felt I had the necessary skills to be in college; however, I could not say the same of most of my classmates.

When asking for financial aid, my "advisers" always made the comment that all I could do was take out loans. Scholarships weren't even suggested, regardless of my strong academic record. It broke my heart to come to the conclusion that the only way I could complete my degree was to take out loans. I graduated a year early with my BA, because I simply could not take out any more loans (I am very proud about taking loans and believe being in debt is bad) but had no money to spare.

Scholarships are difficult; while I did get scholarships, you have to remember how many people are competing for that same scholarship. At the same time, you have to remember that many universities strive now for diversity, despite that not translating to academic success. So there are times that the more "diverse" candidate, while not having as highly developed skills and or capabilities as the "mainstream" student, will be chosen for the scholarship due to wanting to have diverse numbers as a PR (and PC) move. (See above comment about the local university and remedial classes- many of those students were 'diverse' background candidates.)

You must remember that part of the recession is people just taking out oodles of debt and expecting to not have to pay it back. Most people think they can just take out student loans and default on them, thereby going to school for free. My academic adviser and mentor told me that I was one of the few working students he had in over a decade. There is the assumption that one can just defer, defer, defer by taking out loans.

I can somewhat understand schools selecting wealthier students, as they tend to have successful parents who are vested in their education. I feel there is more of a backlash against upper-class kids who don't graduate school from their parents.

While now pursuing my second degree, I notice that there are more and more older students (late 20s, 30s) still in school. The majority of these students will not be successful, yet the school is not allowed to turn anyone away and it seems that more and more mediocre students are just passed by teachers. I can't understand this. If I didn't have what it takes to make it in my chosen field (or even my studies), I would hope that the person in charge of my academic success would tell me and give me the opportunity to choose another profession, rather than waste my time, energy and most of all MONEY (esp student loan dollars) on something I'm not achieving in. Maybe it's me. Thus, there should be more trade schools and a greater acceptance of vocational and trade schools.  Go tradies!

Sep 24, 2011 11:52AM

I had my previous comment lost here, so I'll try again.


I have to take exception with the "findings" of this article.  There are millions of students who are attending colleges and universities on subsidized tuition.  There are numerous programs for minorities, and let's not forget the thousands of illegal immigrants and their children on these "rides".


In fact, the institutions rely upon the so-called "rich" students to make up the losses in revenue from the subsidized students.  How do I know this? 


I was a federal manager who recruited minority students under the federal "Historical Black College and Universities" (HBCU) program.  We covered a portion of tuition not covered under special exemptions, and upon completion of a bachelor degree, awarded the graduates a non-competitive federal job.  After 1 year in this program, I opted out.  I'd seen enough preferential treatment to know that the average applicant without some "hook" was often on the outside of the system, and had to scrape up tuition or take out long-rebound loans.  Sure, the programs accomplished the goals of affirmative action, and I suppose that was OK, to a point.


Today, things have become different, with the plethora of aforementioned subsidies and exemptions.  But I don't buy the article's premise....

Sep 24, 2011 11:35AM
Do colleges favor the rich? Surely one of the more absurd questions to appear in this space. What institution in this entrepreneurial society does not favor the rich? 
Sep 24, 2011 9:50AM
Across the board in almost every state, the GOP is attacking education any way they can. The purpose is to create a generation of under-educated citizens that are more malleable to indoctrination. If you concentrate all the wealth into the top 1%, you have to make sure the population is ignorant and easily cowed. Otherwise they'll revolt.

This is a disturbing finding. If this nation is to be able to compete with the rest of the industrialized world then we must find a way to enable talented people (including myself) to have access to higher education. This is not  a 'small' problem. China, India and a few other countries graduate far more engineering, medical, science and technical students than the US. The result is self-explanatory. 

I remember a post I written a few weeks ago. I had met an individual who works as a maintenance supervisor for a well known private college here in Central Florida specializing in aerospace technology (Florida Institute of Technology). He told me that over 60% of the students attending this school are foreigners. How is the US going to compete with the rest of the world if Americans cannot have access to these institutions? If you do some research, many influential foreign leaders and business owners are US educated. Are we giving away our competitiveness to foreign nationals and foreign countries because they can afford to attend the US higher education system regarded as one of the world's best while the average American cannot?

Americans have been demanding job creation as the unemployment level in the US has continued to be around 9%. Jobs cannot be created for an uneducated populace. This is where outsourcing plays into effect. Uneducated workers in China, Philippines, Vietnam and other countries will perform menial tasks for wages much lower than an American. Education is a must in today's global environment for the US. The US education system must change to allow for the millions of talented people we have in our OWN country who, when completed with their education, can start ventures that will result in job creation here in the US. The obvious result is the lowering of the unemployment rate and an additional revenue stream for the government (larger tax base). I still wonder how these foreigners can afford to attend our schools while the average American cannot. Even if these foreigners do not complete their higher education here in the US they do so at reputable colleges in their homeland and most of these countries provide higher education at no expense to the student because it is of national interest to have an educated population able to form companies, discoveries and new industries that benefit that nation.

Sep 24, 2011 9:43AM
This is part of a long-running plot by conservatives, the purpose being to always have a glut of untrained workers, for businesses to exploit! They also don;t want as much competition for jobs for the wealthy children entering the workforce. Sad, but true!
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