College Recruiting: Blacks Squeezed Out

Poor college applicants struggle as strapped schools recruit those who can pay full freight.

Digital Vision
Digital Vision

Several years ago, Louisiana State University nixed an open-enrollment rule that had granted admission and ample financial aid to any applicant who was a state resident. Eliminating that rule was the prudent thing to do, given the tally of remedial students who entered the university but never got up to par academically, said Mary Alice Baszile, a former assistant vice provost at LSU’s flagship campus in Baton Rouge.

Dropping that special allowance didn’t bother Baszile much. What did alarm her were the changing rules governing a state-funded scholarship program reserved for Louisiana natives that resulted in fewer and fewer low-income black students getting fewer and fewer of those dollars.

“It means that [LSU] heavily recruits the African-American kids who have good ACT scores, good grades and, very often, come from families with some resources,” she said. “The other kids can hardly get in; they often don’t have a chance.”

That merit-based aid has been outpacing need-based aid is but one sign that low-income blacks — and poor students in general — are having a harder time paying for a college degree. Now comes the news that, at a time when colleges and universities are especially cash-strapped, many schools are deliberately recruiting students who can fully finance their own education. More than half of admissions and enrollment administrators at 462 universities who were recently surveyed by Inside Higher Ed magazine admitted to recruiting students — foreign-born and homegrown — on that basis.

Top Dollars, Top Priority

“Colleges, especially public [ones], face enormous pressure to replace lost state revenues by seeking more full-paying and out-of-state students,” said Rodney Morrison, associate chancellor for enrollment management at Rutgers University. “With the loss of state and federal financial-aid support, we are rapidly eroding access for future students.”

The study’s findings include these:

* 10 percent of four-year colleges surveyed reported that they are admitting full-paying students who have lower grades and test scores than do other admitted applicants.

* For doctoral programs in public institutions, 47 percent of recruiters said that enrolling full-paying students was their goal, compared with 40 percent who identified aiding low-income students as their priority. The respective figures for master’s programs at public institutions were 45 percent and 38 percent.

* While 66 percent of admissions directors at community colleges say that serving students with fewer financial resources remains their central focus, 34 percent did say that enrolling more full-pay students was an essential strategy.

A bad economy is only partly to blame for the shortfalls in college revenue that are driving these new trends, said Nelson Armstrong, who retired two years ago from a career spent in admissions, alumni relations and alumni development in the Ivy League. Exacerbating the problem, he added, are bids by many colleges to appease students with state-of-the-art dormitory rooms on campuses outfitted with everything from up-to-the-minute technology to cutting-edge gym equipment.