(Source: University of Florida)
We've seen this before, so I suppose it's a recurring theme: Flagship state universities, in a race for better students and better rankings, are abandoning their mission to provide affordable education to low-income families. Merit aid chases affluent students while need-based aid suffers. Tuitions rise to fund more amenities. A country club atmosphere begins to develop, discouraging poorer students from applying. Eventually, State U becomes an Ivy wannabe.
Or so the story goes. Let's hear it from the New York Times:
Like [the University of] Florida, more leading public universities are striving for national status and drawing increasingly impressive and increasingly affluent students, sometimes using financial aid to lure them. In the process, critics say, many are losing force as engines of social mobility, shortchanging low-income and minority students, who are seriously underrepresented on their campuses.
"Public universities were created to make excellence available to all qualified students," said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, an advocacy group, "but that commitment appears to have diminished over time, as they choose to use their resources to try to push up their rankings. It's all about reputation, selectivity and ranking, instead of about the mission of finding and educating future leaders from their state."
While a handful of public universities have long stood among the nation's top institutions – the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan among them – many have only recently joined their ranks.
At some of the best public universities, selectivity is up: at the University of Florida, the average student high school grade point average now exceeds 4.0, a feat achievable only with high grades in honors or Advanced Placement classes. And student interest in these institutions is soaring. At the University of Vermont, where three quarters of the Freshmen come from other states, applications have more than doubled since 2001.
The demands on such universities are growing, too, particularly with many states questioning their spending on higher education. Increasingly, these colleges are expected to bolster their states' economies by attracting research grants and jobs. To do that, they say, they must compete with elite private universities.
So the universities face a tough balancing act: should they push for higher status and higher tuition revenue by accepting more top-achieving, out-of-state students, or should they worry about broadening access for low-income, in-state students? Is their primary goal to serve the people of their state or to compete nationally with private research universities? Can they leave the less prestigious state colleges to serve the bulk of in-state students?
Read the rest here.