Reality of college costs sinks in for MU students

Story by Samantha Nelson.

COLUMBIA — Tim Albers was planning to walk onto the Gonzaga baseball team when, during the winter of his senior year of high school, a third knee surgery “screwed up that plan.”

His parents allowed him to consider enrolling in any college, and while on vacation, his family stopped in Columbia. He knew MU had a top journalism school and he “fell in love with everything that was there.”

Albers was coming from Colorado, so he was going to have to pay the university’s out-of-state tuition, which is significantly higher than in-state tuition.

“I wasn’t given any of the scholarships I applied for,” Albers said. “My parents made too much money before taxes, but they didn’t make enough to pay for college entirely.”

The gross cost of many colleges seem difficult enough for middle- and upper-income families, but for lower-income students, paying for a higher education can seem almost out of reach, according to studies done by the College Board and by the Brookings Institute, a Washington D.C.-based research organization and think tank.

Students from lower-income families apply to college in smaller numbers than their more wealthy counterparts, and when they do apply, they apply to colleges that are less selective as a whole, the studies showed. 

The College Board divided family income into five levels – called quintiles – and used U.S. Census data to determine how many high school graduates enrolled in college from each quintile. Only 52 percent of students from the lower quintile enrolled in college compared to 82 percent from the upper quintile.

According to the New York Times, this college enrollment gap can contribute to the income gap among Americans. College graduates make significantly more money in their lifetime than those who did not graduate from college.

According to the Brookings Institute study, low-income students who are academically high achieving rarely apply to selective colleges. The study suggests that many low-income students simply aren’t aware of the available opportunities.

A similar study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that these high achieving students are put off by “sticker shock” when they learn of the cost to attend a university.

However, most of these lower-income students could qualify for a substantial reduction in tuition that would allow them to afford a more selective college, according to the bureau’s study. Unfortunately, those students don’t know about the tuition reductions and apply to two-year colleges or less selective four-year universities.

The four universities in the UM System give significantly more institutional merit-based aid than need-based aid.

MU, for example, provided $13 million in need-based aid and $39 million in merit-based support in the 2013-14 school year. This disparity exists in public universities across the country, according to Missourian reporting.

Albers, who is a junior studying business at MU, said he relies on student loans to help pay the cost of his out-of-state tuition.

“Students who really work hard should have every opportunity to get their school paid for,” Albers said. “Everyone should have the chance to not graduate $100,000 in debt.”

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