Richard DiFeliciantonio, who is the vice president for enrollment at Ursinus College, and who if I’m not mistaken put out a very popular cover of “Light My Fire” back in the day, wrote an op-ed($) in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week decrying “America’s Damaging Lack of Investment of Higher Education.” As evidence, he notes that:
The dwindling role of the Pell Grant is a case study in how changing national priorities have resulted in fewer opportunities for the less wealthy. Not long after the program was established, in the 1970s, a Pell Grant covered more than 50 percent of a student’s direct costs at a public four-year college and peaked at almost 80 percent. Today the average grant covers only about 30 percent of tuition, room, and board.
Moreover, in constant dollars, the average Pell Grant has remained virtually unchanged, while college tuition has skyrocketed.
“Moreover”? Shouldn’t that read “That’s because” or perhaps even “In Congress’ defense”? He’s saying that in the 1970s Congress established a financial aid program for lower-income students and funded it at a level that covered most of the cost of college. Over the years, Congress boosted funding so that the grants would keep up with inflation, plus added more money to account for the fact that more students are going to college. The latter factor has been particularly expensive in recent years as the demographic wave of the baby boom echo has crested; as the College Board noted in a recent report (See Table 1b) total Pell grant funding increased by 73% in constant dollars from 1997 to 2007.
Yet during the same time colleges and universities collectively engaged in a two decade-long festival of tuition hikes that shows no sign of letting up anytime soon, radically devaluing the Pell grant relative to students costs. How, exactly, is this public disinvestment?