Paying the Price, chapters 2 and 3: Pell grants and the real price of higher education

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream

Let’s continue with our reading of Paying the Price.

In this post I’ll discuss the next two chapters, “The Cost and Price of a College Education” and “Who Gets Pell?”   I’ll outline their contents, then  ask some discussion questions.

You can leave thoughts and your own questions as comments below.  You can also write in our reading’s Google Doc.  And if that’s not enough, you can also tweet using the hashtag #payingtheprice.

For more information about this reading, check the posts about the book so far under this tag.

“The Cost and Price of a College Education”

Goldrick-Rab argues that the actual expenses involved in attending higher education – referred to as “the cost of attendance” – are more expensive than they used to be, and critically beyond what financial aid supports.  How can this be?

Students lose potential income when taking classes (Kindle location 701). Costs other than tuition have risen dramatically: living, supplies, transportation, textbooks, etc. (738)  Many institutions have good competitive reasons to make themselves look affordable, which can mean underestimating actual costs (772).  And a growing number of students don’t receive funding from their family, but instead contribute money to their family’s livelihood, “a negative expected family contribution” (790, 869).  Tuition itself rises frequently, outpacing financial aid arrangements (796).  Fees, often unaddressed by aid, have shot up drastically (810).  Parents can simply fail to support their children (850).

Moreover, bureaucratic obstacles can reduce student support.  The FAFSA application and administration process is often arduous and confusing (887ff). These difficulties can block students from receiving support.  The right a student has to win administrative attention isn’t necessarily known to all, and many offices have incentives to downplay it (970).  Indeed, the complexity of student aid can confuse and disempower students (1073).  On the flip side, financial aid offices are often underresourced (1116).

“Who Gets Pell?”

This section begins with a return to one student, then moves on to Pell abuse or bad fits for the grant, noting “Pell runners” and the argument that some Pell-awarded students are not sufficiently prepared for higher education.  Goldrick-Rab fiercely argues that emphasis on abuse is wildly misplaced.

Who actually receives Pell Grants?  Many poor, working class, and lower middle class Americans (1451)… and the grants fall behind their needs, which drives them into debt, the exact opposite outcome from the grant’s intended purpose (1607).  They also work, but unlike Baby Boomers in their era, their options usually pay little (1628).

To sum up, financial aid currently fails to help the non-wealthy, and a higher education economic gap is widening:

The effort involved in paying for college has altered the college experience for lower-income students at a time when the conditions of college life have grown ever more comfortable for wealthy students. As the children of the well-off enjoy one-on-one chats with renowned faculty, experience outward-bound excursions with their classmates, become members of dining clubs, and exercise on climbing walls, Pell recipients are simply struggling to make ends meet. (1655)

Discussion questions

  1. If you’ve attended higher education recently, does this account match what you saw or experienced?
  2. Do you think Pell can be improved, or should reform address the states instead?
  3. If you went to college before the current settlement, how did your experience differ?
  4. What else caught your eye in these two chapters?

For next Monday, February 6th, we’ll move on to the next two chapters, 4: Making Ends Meet and 5: On Their Own.

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One Response to Paying the Price, chapters 2 and 3: Pell grants and the real price of higher education

  1. Pingback: Paying the Price, chapters 2 and 3: Pell grants and the real price of higher education — Bryan Alexander – thilognedierrysite

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