Vassar College’s plan to replace loans with grants for students with family incomes below $60,000 was the subject of several newspaper articles last week.
Meanwhile, the University of Arizona is implementing its “Arizona Assurance,” first announced in early November, to replace loans with grants for students with family incomes below $42,400. Unlike Vassar’s, the Arizona initiative has not attracted much attention from major media in the last four months.
This disparity in coverage is puzzling, considering the potential impacts of the two programs: federal data show that 428 applicants for financial aid at Vassar met the income criterion of the college’s new policy in 2006-07. At Arizona, that number was 4,281 – a tenfold difference that puts the absence of public institutions from the mainstream discussion of no- and low-loan announcements into glaring perspective.
Financial aid pledges to limit the use of loans in financial aid at elite private colleges are significant. They represent real savings for some families, and a mounting consensus that an unmanageable debt burden is unacceptable. But policymakers and the media should not forget that students with family incomes below $60,000 are much more likely to attend public colleges and universities than private ones – at a rate of six to one in 2003-04 (the last year for which reliable data of this sort is available).
The University of Arizona and other public institutions that have taken steps to reduce student debt burdens for low-income students deserve due credit. See here for a full list of institutions – public and private – that have instituted financial aid pledges.