MONEY Viewpoint

Taxpayers Should Stop Subsidizing “Country Club” Colleges

An education policy expert argues that it's time for more elite colleges to open their doors to low-income students.

For years, Washington University in St. Louis has held the dubious distinction of being the least socioeconomically diverse college in the country.

Just 85 members of its freshmen class entering in the fall of 2012 (5%) came from families with incomes low enough (typically below $50,000 a year) to qualify for a federal Pell Grant. (That’s the most recent year with federal data available.)

Washington University’s proportion of low-income students is remarkably tiny, considering more than a third of all full-time undergraduates qualify for the need-based Pell Grants. It’s also low for schools with tough academic standards. Other elite colleges maintain top reputations while providing many more opportunities to the non-rich: About a third of the students at the University of California-Berkeley—generally considered one of the top universities in the world—qualify for Pell Grants, for example. And more than 20% of students at elite schools like Amherst College and Columbia University come from low-income families.

Adding financial injury to this insult: “country club” private colleges that bar the door to the poor—thus reinforcing socioeconomic inequality—are receiving large tax subsidies from you and me, in part because of their tax-exempt status.

But there finally may be a little good college opportunity news on the horizon. Perhaps in response to the growing criticism of taxpayer subsidies of such country club colleges, some schools like Washington University are starting to at least inch towards providing more opportunities.

This January, Washington University announced a plan to double the proportion of Pell Grant recipients that it enrolls by 2020. Under the plan, Wash U. will spend at least $25 million a year for five years to increase the share of students who qualify for Pell Grants.

“Improving the socioeconomic diversity of our student body is not just important; it’s critical to our success as a university,” Holden Thorp, the university’s provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, said in a news release.

Four other private colleges that currently have low-income populations of only about 10% tell me they are also now working to recruit more low-income students.

Some of the colleges say the problem—and solution—boils down to money.

Officials at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., for example, say one key reason their student body is currently only 10% low-income is that the financial crisis of 2008 reduced their endowment, which is used to fund financial aid. They are now trying to raise more money for scholarships so a more diverse group of students can afford to attend the school. “We have a responsibility to increase access wherever we can,” says school president George Bridges, who is leaving Whitman at the end of the school year to become president of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

Likewise, Elon University, in North Carolina, is in the middle of a 10-year campaign to double the amount of need-based institutional aid that it awards. “Elon must not become a gated community open only to those of privilege,” the college states on its website, “and our classrooms and campus life will be much richer when we recruit more students from diverse backgrounds who challenge and lead us by sharing their own life stories…” Because of the difficulty of raising the large sums needed, however, Elon is making “slow progress” in increasing the proportion of Pell students it enrolls, says President Leo Lambert. “We are digging hard into this issue of access, because it makes a big difference in the quality of the kind of community we aspire to be,” he says.

Other colleges are combining fundraising with new recruiting efforts. Colorado College is raising more money for financial aid and partnering with nonprofits such as QuestBridge to recruit low-income historically underrepresented students. “We are really diversifying the pool of highly qualified low-income students that we enroll,” says president Jill Tiefenthaler.

And Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio, is increasing its diversity in part by changing its application. In 2013, Kenyon simplified its admissions application, removing extra essays that the school found discouraged first-generation students. It seems to be working: For next year’s incoming class, Kenyon admitted 408 minority students, up 9% from last year, and 128 first-generation college students, the second most the college has admitted in the last decade. “It’s clear to us that we can do better than where we are and where we’ve been in recent years,” says Sean Decatur, Kenyon’s president.

But this battle is far from won. There are still plenty of other colleges that aren’t making an effort to provide opportunities to more than a handful of lucky low-income students. “Just trying to increase the number of Pell Grant recipients might be good for PR, but may be bad policy for our college,” says Randy Helm, the outgoing president of Muhlenberg College, a private college in Pennsylvania where only 8% of the students come from low income families.

Part of the reason is financial. Washington University can afford to spend more on financial aid, since its endowment equates to about $500,000 per student. Muhlenberg’s endowment equates to one-tenth of that: $50,000 per student.

Helm, who is retiring in June, doesn’t think it would be healthy for Muhlenberg to make a concerted effort to recruit and finance substantially more Pell-eligible applicants. If it did, the school would have to spend its entire $36 million financial aid budget supporting them, and wouldn’t have any aid left for middle-income students who are also struggling to pay the school’s $55,000 annual cost of attendance.

“We’re not going to be a school that serves the very, very rich and the very, very poor,” he says. “I don’t think that would be fair to middle-income students, the college, or the country.”

Another reason for the lack of college opportunities may be the pursuit of prestige. Muhlenberg, for example, devotes a significant share of its institutional aid to the pursuit of high-achieving students, who often come from well-to-do families.

A page on Muhlenberg’s website, entitled “The Real Deal on Financial Aid,” acknowledges that the college and many of its competitors often use institutional aid as a “recruiting tool.” “It used to be that you could try for that reach school and if you got in, you didn’t have to worry because everybody who got in, who needed money, got money,” the college’s financial aid office states. “Today, however, as colleges are asked to fund more and more of their own operation with less and less assistance from government, foundations, and families, they are increasingly reluctant to part with their money to enroll students who don’t raise their academic profile.”

Muhlenberg provides “merit aid”—which is not based on financial need—to about 32% of its freshmen, with an average award of nearly $12,500 per student, according to data the college reports to magazines that publish college rankings.

Higher education researchers, the news media, and even the White House have been putting colleges on notice that they must do a better job serving low-income students. It’s encouraging to see that this pressure has been pushing some of the biggest laggards to make progress in this area. Those colleges that continue to hold out, however, deserve additional scrutiny. At a time of growing inequality, we can no longer afford to subsidize colleges that cater to the rich at the expense of the poor.

(Here are Money’s lists of the Most Generous Colleges and the 25 Best Colleges You Can Actually Get Into.)

Stephen Burd is a senior policy analyst with New America’s Education Policy Program. This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education.

MONEY College

The 25 Best Colleges for Earning a Degree in Business

University of California Berkeley
Melanie Stetson Freeman—AP University of California Berkeley

The surprising public colleges that beat out many pricey private schools.

Anyone with a mind for business has the same question about college: What’s the return on my investment? If I’m going to take on some $28,400 in student debt, will that stake pay off in a lifetime of higher earnings?

Economists generally agree that a college degree pays off, but new research from PayScale has even better news for students planning on majoring in business: You don’t have to go to a pricey private school to reap the biggest return. In fact, you’re often better off at a state school.

PayScale calculates the expected “return”for colleges all around the country—how much more graduates earn over 20 years compared to high school grads, minus the total cost of school (everything from tuition to books) and the four years of income you give up while you’re studying.

The best return on investment for business majors? An education at the University of California-Berkeley (which overall ranks as the 13th best college value in MONEY’s Best Colleges list). Apparently the road to business success is lined with Birkenstocks.

The total in-state tuition and expenses is over $34,000, and the average borrower leaves Berkeley with $23,360 in loans. But that pays off with a median $1,133,100 return on investment over 20 years.

Precocious young investors might see those numbers a different way: That’s a 12.2% annualized ROI. Good luck finding that kind of return in the stock market.

And nine more public schools make the top 25 list: University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, Rutgers, University of Washington, UCLA, SUNY at Binghamton, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of California-San Diego, and Cal Poly.

Why do public institutions fare so well? “It’s likely a combo of lower tuition costs and location,” Lydia Frank of PayScale writes in an email. “You’ll notice that many of the public schools that rank well on that list are located in places like California where salaries tend to be higher. If alumni are sticking around after graduation, they’re going to fare better than students who went to public school somewhere in the Midwest and ended up working there.”

School 20-year net return on investment Total 2014-2015 tuition and expenses (on campus; in-state rates)
1. University of California-Berkeley $1,133,100 $34,356
2. University of Pennsylvania $1,039,000 $64,200
3. Babson College $762,800 $62,440
4. Santa Clara University $756,200 $61,638
5. University of Virginia $745,100 $27,010
6. Cornell University $730,000 $63,606
7. New York University $693,700 $66,022
8. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill $664,300 $25,650
9. Rutgers University-New Brunswick $655,400 $29,933
10. Lehigh University $653,800 $58,835
11. Villanova University $650,100 $60,694
12. University of Washington-Main Campus $643,800 $26,698
13. University of California-Los Angeles $637,500 $32,978
14. SUNY at Binghamton $636,900 $23,648
15. Georgia Institute of Technology $636,300 $24,748
16. University of California-San Diego $635,000 $31,254
17. Loyola University Maryland $620,200 $59,925
18. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo $619,800 $24,683
19. Saint Mary’s College of California $611,000 $59,327
20. George Washington University $609,800 $63,210
21. Brigham Young University $605,700 $12,150
22. Washington University in St. Louis $605,000 $66,376
23. University of Notre Dame $596,600 $62,461
24. American University $595,100 $59,120
25. Hofstra University $589,200 $56,046

Of course, part of the reason those nine public schools offer such a high return on investment is because your upfront cost is much smaller when you pay in-state tuition. But even when you consider the cost for out-of-staters, public institutions top the list. Case in point: You’re still best off going to Berkeley, even if you have to pay more than $57,000 a year in out-of-state tuition.

School 20-year net return on investment Total 2014-2015 tuition and expenses (on campus; out-of-state rates)
1. University of California-Berkeley $1,041,600 $57,234
2. University of Pennsylvania $1,039,000 $64,200
3. Babson College $762,800 $62,440
4. Santa Clara University $756,200 $61,638
5. Cornell University $730,000 $63,606
6. New York University $693,700 $66,022
7. Lehigh University $653,800 $58,835
8. Villanova University $650,100 $60,694
9. University of Virginia $643,700 $56,196
10. Loyola University Maryland $620,200 $59,925
11. Saint Mary’s College of California $611,000 $59,327
12. George Washington University $609,800 $63,210
13. Brigham Young University $605,700 $12,150
14. Washington University in St. Louis $605,000 $66,376
15. Rutgers University-New Brunswick $603,900 $44,711
16. SUNY at Binghamton $600,900 $35,288
17. University of Notre Dame $596,600 $62,461
18. American University $595,100 $59,120
19. Hofstra University $589,200 $56,046
20. Boston College $588,900 $63,022
21. Wentworth Institute of Technology $583,600 $49,855
22. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill $583,300 $50,732
23. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo $574,600 $35,843
24. Wittenberg University $573,800 $50,562
25. University of Washington-Main Campus $572,600 $47,817

Notes: Cost of tuition, fees, room and board, books, and supplies; does not include the salaries of college graduates who went on to get more advanced degrees; schools excluded if PayScale does not have statistically significant samples of earnings data.

MONEY College

The 6 Most Promising Industries for the Class of 2015

These businesses will be booming until 2020 and beyond.

Graduating from college in a few weeks, and looking to start a career where the most growth is? Research firm IbisWorld recently delved into its database of more than 700 industries and came up with a list of the fields most likely to show strong revenue and employment growth, along with above-average salaries, for at least the next five years. Here are the top six businesses for new grads now:

Hospitals/health care. Projected to grow by 19.5% between now and 2020, the medical industry will benefit partly from an aging population that will need more health services in the years ahead. Current average industry salary: $66,567.

Engineering services. The industry “is expected to hire thousands of new graduates over the next five years as business confidence increases,” along with higher government spending on infrastructure, the Ibis study says, for a growth rate of 19%. Average industry salary this year: $87,246.

Management consulting. With an 18% growth rate from now until 2020, profitability — and demand for new hires — has been climbing as the economy recovers and companies invest more in strategy, Ibis reports. Average 2015 industry salary: $58,702.

Accounting. The industry, projected to grow 17%, benefits from the recent rise in financial regulation, which keeps auditors busier than ever. More globalization will also “lead to more cross-border corporate deals that require expertise in U.S. accounting standards.” Current average salary: $67,474.

Semiconductors and circuits. Demand for “advanced wireless consumer electronics, such as smartphones,” including new chip technology that can integrate existing WiFi and mobile networks, will generate 16% growth by 2020, with electrical engineers in especially big demand. Average salary now: $93,167.

Software development. The job market for software engineers, developers, and programmers has been rosy for years, but the Ibis study projects that demand for smartphone app developers in particular will soar at an annual rate of 37.6%, far outpacing the projected 15.5% growth rate of the software business as a whole. The industry’s voracious appetite for talent shows in the average annual 2015 salary: $147,274.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

MONEY College

What to Make of the Government’s College Watch List

Everest Institute in Silver Spring, Md. Corinthian Colleges, which owns Everest, Heald College and WyoTech schools, is being sued by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for what it calls a “predatory lending scheme,” the agency said Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014.
Jose Luis Magana—AP Everest Institute was part of the troubled Corinthian Colleges.

A list of schools that are under the microscope for financial reasons was recently made public. How risky is it to attend a troubled school?

Regulators recently made public a once secret watch list of around 550 colleges under scrutiny for financial irregularities. But inclusion on the list doesn’t automatically mean the schools are about to fail, according to Department of Education regulators, college officials and even the reporter who triggered the release of the list with his Freedom of Information Act requests.

The list gained attention because of the Corinthian Colleges collapse last year. The education department placed Corinthian on the “heightened cash monitoring” watch list over concerns about the for-profit chain’s practices and finances, and then last summer restricted its access to federal financial aid, including loans, grants and work study. Within weeks the already weakened chain ran short of money and agreed to sell or close most of its 107 campuses.


Some of the chain’s 72,000 students are eligible for student loan forgiveness because their campuses closed. Those whose campuses were sold, however, are typically stuck with their debt even if their programs are no longer offered.

So the risks of attending a troubled school are significant. Until last week, though, the education department kept the list a secret, citing concerns that revealing a school’s regulatory status could cause it “competitive injury,” said Michael Stratford, the reporter with trade publication Inside Higher Ed who filed repeated FOIA requests over several months for the information to be made public.

In a blog post that accompanied the watch list’s release, department Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said publicizing it was “another step to increase transparency and accountability,” but said inclusion on the list “is not necessarily a red flag to students and taxpayers, but it can serve as a caution light.”

Mitchell wrote, “It means we are watching these institutions more closely to ensure that institutions are using federal student aid in a way that is accountable to both students and taxpayers.”

Stratford agreed that being on the list “is not an obvious indication of a problem” but is “certainly not a badge of honor.”

“A college can land on this list for any number of reasons, ranging from the really mundane things like not filing paperwork with the department on time to serious things such as the department having concerns about the financial viability of the college on a short-term, immediate basis,” Stratford said.

More than half of the institutions on the list are for-profit programs, including beauty, trade and healthcare training institutes. The list also includes small religious colleges and other private non-profit schools, a few public colleges, and several foreign institutions, including The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Middlesex University in London.

The majority of the institutions are subjected to the less stringent of two levels of monitoring. Instead of the federal government advancing them money for financial aid, which is normally the case, they must finance themselves and apply for reimbursement. Colleges subject to this “level 1″ scrutiny include several Le Cordon Blue campuses, which are owned by Career Education Corp, and the Art Institutes, part of Education Management Corp, which has said inclusion on the list has not harmed students’ ability to access financial aid or its financial standing.

But 69 institutions are subjected to the higher level of review, which requires they submit detailed documentation for each aid recipient. Education department employees must review and approve the documentation before the financial aid is reimbursed.

The education department initially redacted the names of several of the 69, citing ongoing investigations, before releasing the names Monday. Most of them are flagged as having “severe findings” after audits.

Six public institutions also are under increased review, including Roxbury Community College in Boston; Fort Berthold Community College in New Town, North Dakota; VEEB Nassau County School of Practical Nursing in Uniondale, New York; Taylor Technical Institute, Perry, Florida; Pike Lincoln Technical Center in Eolia, Missouri; and Eastern Oklahoma State College, a community college in Wilburton.

Although the list can give families a heads-up that a college is facing extra regulatory scrutiny, it’s not really “a consumer information tool,” Stratford cautioned.

“It might be a good jumping-off point for students and families that want to do more in-depth research,” he said.

TIME Basketball

See NCAA Coaches Shouting During March Madness Games

Whether they're angry or just trying to be encouraging, these coaches have a lot to say

TIME Education

Watch Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity’s Video on Ending Sexual Assault

Fraternity member describes what constitutes consent

The fraternity Pi Kappa Phi released a video Thursday pledging support to the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign to stop sexual assault.

In the video, different men relay definitions of what does, and does not, constitute consent. Some examples of consent they give are setting boundaries, open communication and “asking and hearing a yes.” Consent is not given, they say, if the partner is passed out, drunk, coerced or silent.

Pi Kappa Phi has been in national headlines recently when its North Carolina State University chapter was suspended for a book filled with racist and sexist comments written by the fraternity brothers.

“It’s On Us” was launched by the White House in September 2014. The first video for the campaign contained celebrity appearances by Jon Hamm and Kerry Washington; President Obama then made his own clip that was broadcast during the Grammy Awards in February.

 

MONEY College

What Your College Isn’t Telling You About Costs

college graduate with price tag on cap
Burlingham—Dreamstime.com

One-third of colleges give students unrealistically low estimates of their living expenses, a new study finds.

It’s an exciting time of year for families and their college-bound students. Acceptance letters arrive, celebration ensues, college visits get scheduled. Now your biggest college worry switches to how you’re going to afford it.

As professors who study college affordability, we know that rising tuition is of real concern to parents and students. But our research has uncovered a surprising and previously little-known source of unnecessary confusion, worry, and heartbreak for students and parents: About one-third of colleges are providing families with cost of attendance estimates that are at least $3,000 less than the amount we estimate the school will really cost.

These are the findings of our recent study, in which we took a close look at what colleges estimate it costs to live off-campus, and what other sources say it really costs. We focused on the off-campus living costs because only 13% of today’s college students fit the traditional stereotype of living on campus. Fully 50% live off-campus on their own. (The rest live with their families and so tend to have lower living costs.)

We found wide variation in off-campus living allowances among colleges and universities located in the same area. For example, colleges in Milwaukee reported living allowances ranging between $5,180 and $21,276 for nine months. And as our chart below documents, we believe all colleges in Washington, D.C., a city with one of the nation’s highest housing costs, underestimate living expenses—in one case by more than $7,000 a year.

You may not realize how important such living costs, and the colleges’ estimates of them, are.

The College Board reports that the average student attending an in-state public university paid $9,140 in tuition in the 2014-15 academic year. But that was just 40% of the total cost of college for public college students who didn’t live at home during their studies. The typical undergraduate who isn’t living with family pays about another $10,000 for nine months of housing and food. Overall, undergraduates at public universities typically paid $14,200 in housing, food, transportation, textbook, and miscellaneous costs, bringing the total cost of a year at the average state university to $23,400.

The federal government requires colleges to provide students and their families with estimates of the costs of living on and off campus. The college’s estimates can be reached through many different approaches, and can be more or less accurate—it’s up to the school.

The “cost of attendance” (COA) estimate is crucial because it determines how much financial aid the family can receive. The federal government caps its aid at a school’s COA, so students who receive outside scholarships may see other aid eligibility reduced. Federal parent PLUS Loans, for example, allow parents to borrow up to—but no more than—their child’s full COA less any other aid.

In addition, families need accurate estimates of these living costs to make smart choices about which colleges they can really afford. The 33% of estimates that we believe are too low can cause students and families to make the heartbreaking discovery during the school year that the college they chose was much more expensive than they had budgeted for. When the money runs out, some students could have to drop out.

The 11% of estimates that are too high can lead families to mistakenly cross some schools off their list as unaffordable.

In order to assess the accuracy of the living allowance schools create, we constructed a standardized approach using publicly available data for each region and community in the country.

We found that nearly 45% of the living allowances reported by colleges and universities were off by more than $3,000. Most of the errors understated the likely cost of living. The underestimaters include colleges as diverse as the Bryant & Stratton College, Holyoke Community College, Chapman University, and Eastern Michigan University.

Even among public four-year colleges, which we found to be the most accurate sector, 30% of colleges reported living expenses that differed from our estimates by at least $3,000.

Having accurate information matters for people making college choices. Schools, states, or even the federal government could use the approach we developed to make the process of estimating living expenses and the COA simpler. This will also relieve colleges and universities of the time and effort required to make the computations, potentially saving even more money. Most importantly, it will help families get a truer sense of what college really costs and enable them to make wise college choices.

College Washington, D.C., living cost estimate*
George Washington University $12,828
Corcoran College of Art and Design $14,000
American University $15,359
Trinity Washington University $15,705
Gallaudet University $16,788
Catholic University of America $16,876
University of the District of Columbia $18,913
National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts $20,342
Goldrick-Rab & Kelchen $20,394

*The living cost estimate covers the cost of housing, food, transportation, books, supplies, and miscellaneous living costs such as laundry in Washington, D.C.

Sara Goldrick-Rab is Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Founding Director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, where she leads a team of researchers seeking effective ways to make college more affordable. Robert Kelchen is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Management and Policy at Seton Hall University and an affiliate of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab.

(To find the colleges that offer the best bang for the buck, check out Money’s college rankings.)

MONEY College

Many Colleges Offer Affirmative Action for the Rich and Powerful

School girls in uniforms
Hepp—Getty Images

Survey finds 25% of college admissions officers felt pressured to admit influential slackers.

Didn’t get into the college of your dreams? Maybe you weren’t qualified. Or maybe you weren’t connected, influential, or rich enough.

One hundred admissions officers at 400 top colleges and universities surveyed by Kaplan Test Prep—so fully 25% of respondents—said they have “felt pressured to accept an applicant who didn’t meet (the) school’s admissions requirements because of who that applicant was connected to.”

And 16% said their school gives an edge in admissions to applicants who are the children or siblings of alumni.

The Kaplan survey confirms what has long been one of the worst-kept secrets in the college admissions world: Many colleges give admissions advantages to applicants related to people college officials believe can help the institution in some way.

Many college officials have defended the practice, noting that these comparatively few exceptions help them raise big donations and recruit powerful backers to do things like fund scholarships for smart but needy students.

But this age-old policy of “affirmative action for the rich” has also been criticized as one factor contributing to the continuing gaps between college graduation rates for the rich and poor, as well as ongoing economic inequality. (Colleges’ chintzy financial aid policies also worsen inequality, charges one high school principal.)

Even colleges that say they are “need-blind” in admissions—in other words, don’t hold a student’s need for financial aid against them when making admission decisions—aren’t wealth-blind. Many wealthy and generous private colleges, such as Duke University, set aside at least a few letters of admission for “development admits”—underqualified children of families whom the school’s Development Office fundraisers hope will make large donations, journalist Dan Golden documented in his book The Price of Admission.

Many public universities also bend the rules in favor of influential slackers. Investigators found that between 2005 and 2009, the University of Illinois admitted an estimated 800 underqualified students who were connected to politically powerful families, for example.

And the president of the University of Texas at Austin, Bill Powers, pressured his admissions officers to admit as many as 73 underqualified students from influential families in the last six years, a state investigation recently found. Powers defended his actions, arguing that the number of exceptions affected less than one-tenth of 1% of the student body and “served the best interests of the institution.”

Seppy Basili, vice president of college admissions and K-12 programs at Kaplan Test Prep, cautions ordinary applicants against giving up because of this “thumb on the scale” for a small group of “development admits” and “legacies” (children of alumni). “The overwhelming majority of accepted college applicants are successful due to their own merits,” he says.

(Get tips on how to get your application to the top of the pile.)

In addition, Basili noted that such programs are under increasing scrutiny, thanks in part to the growing transparency of admissions practices. An increasing number of students are using an obscure provision in a federal law to gain access to their previously secret admissions files.

MONEY College

Former Corinthian College Students Won’t Pay Their Debt

Students of the now-defunct Corinthian College are refusing to pay off their student loans, saying that the for-profit college left them saddled with unreasonable debt.

MONEY College

Principal: Colleges’ Chintzy Financial Aid Offers Betray the American Dream

150331_FF_CollegeChintzyOffer
iStock

Colleges and states are expecting students to take on an insane amount of debt.

Editor’s note: One of the nation’s leading public high school principals, a 2014 winner of the prestigious Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education, wrote this after viewing the financial aid awards sent by colleges to the seniors at his Philadelphia magnet high school. Two-thirds of his students at the Science Leadership Academy are minorities, and one-third are considered economically disadvantaged.

This year has been a fantastic year for Science Leadership Academy college acceptances. We’ve seen our kids get into some of the most well-respected schools in record numbers—and many of our kids are the first SLA-ers to ever get accepted into these schools.

Whether or not they are able to go to is another question.

Today, I was sitting with one of our SLA seniors. She’s gotten into a wonderful college—her top choice. The school costs $54,000 a year. Her mother makes less than the federal deep poverty level. She only received the federal financial aid package with no aid from the school, which means that, should she go to this school, she would graduate with approximately $200,000 of debt.

She would graduate with approximately $200,000 of debt—for a bachelor’s degree.

Now, how in good conscience could a college do that? I’ve sat with kids as they’ve opened the emails from their top choice schools. Watching the excitement of getting into a dream school is one of the real joys of being a principal. It’s just the best feeling to see a student have that moment where a goal is reached.

And as amazing as that moment is … that’s how horrible it is to sit with a student when they get the financial aid package and counsel them that the school just isn’t worth that much debt.

I sat with my student today and pulled up a student loan calculator. I showed her that $200,000 of debt would mean payments of $1,500 a month until she was 52 years old—and then we pulled up a budgeting tool so she saw how much she would have to make just to be able to barely get by.

(Are you in the same situation? Here’s how to negotiate for more aid.)

Then we looked at the state schools she’s gotten into, and we talked about what it would mean to be $60,000 in debt after four years, because Pennsylvania has had so much cut from higher education that Penn State is now $27,000 / year—in state, and we’ve noticed that their financial aid packages have dropped by quite a bit.

So we have to tell the kids to apply to the private schools because the aid packages the kids get from private colleges are sometimes significantly better than what the public schools are offering. Kids have to apply to a wide range of schools and hope. And then we sit down with kids and help them make sane choices, as the $60K a year schools send amazing brochures and promises of semesters abroad and pictures of brand new multi-million dollar campuses, all while promising that there are plenty of ways to finance their tuition.

(Check out Money’s lists of the 100 Best Private Colleges For Students Who Don’t Want To Borrow, 25 Most Affordable Colleges and the 10 Colleges With The Most Generous Financial Aid.)

Dear colleges—you are doing this wrong.

It doesn’t have to be this way. When I was a teacher in New York City even as recently as ten years ago, I felt that kids could go to amazing and affordable CUNY and SUNY schools if the private schools didn’t give the aid the kids needed. But Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of 50 in higher ed spending by state, and as a result, seven of the top 14 state colleges are in Pennsylvania.

And as private colleges hit times of financial crisis and public colleges become more tuition dependent, students are being asked to take out more and more loans, which is putting a generation of working class and middle class students tens—if not hundreds—of thousands of dollars in debt to start their adult lives.

The thing is—I still powerfully agree with those who say that a college education is a worthwhile investment. And on the aggregate, it is true – especially because the union manufacturing jobs of the last century have been lost. But when we look at the individual child, and the choices that kids and families are being asked to make, we have to ask how we can ask kids to take that kind of risk and take on that kind of debt.

Of course, all of this is exacerbated for kids from economically challenged families and for kids who are the first in their families to go to college. And if you are thinking about leaving a comment about kids getting jobs in college to help make it affordable, you show me the job market for college kids to make $30,000 a year while in school full-time. I must have missed those listings in the morning paper.

A college education can—and should—be a pathway to the middle class.

Colleges should have a moral responsibility to offer sane packages that don’t saddle students with unimaginable debt to start their adult lives.

Work hard, go to college, live a meaningful life. That is what we hear promised to children all the time from President Obama to parents across America.

Colleges and universities have to be honest and fair agents in that dream. Asking students to take out $30,000 and $40,000 of debt a year for access to that dream is a betrayal of the educational values so many of us hold dear.

Chris Lehmann is the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a Philadelphia public high school. This story first appeared on his blog, Practical Theory.

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