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New Study States Higher Education Not Affordable for Low-income Students

The ACSFA, which is a congressional panel examining college financial aid programs, also found that low-income students attend four-year schools at half the rate of their higher-income peers who are just as academically prepared.

Since 1993, state-funded merit-based financial aid programs, which favor middle-class students, have risen 336 percent. Funding for need-based financial aid programs has risen only 88 percent.

But state education officials say North Carolina is largely unaffected by the trend.

Dr. Juliet Garcia, chairwoman of the ACSFA panel and president of the University of Texas at Brownsville, said the aim of financial aid has changed in recent years.

"The focus has shifted from the poorest to middle-class students," she said. "We need to focus on the poorest of students and help them get through college."

Garcia added that a suggestion given to President Bush and Secretary of Education Rod Paige has been to at least double the amount of the maximum Pell Grant allowed.

Bush wants to raise the maximum Pell Grant amount for first year students from $3,300 to $5,100.

Garcia said this will help combat the public university student's average unmet need of $3,800.

"If you increase Pell Grants, students will be able to stay (in college)," she said.

She also said another reason for more financial aid going to middle-class students and less to lower-class students is that the gap between classes has increased.

Garcia added that the panel can only make recommendations to the secretary of education and Congress, not initiate legislation.

But state education officials said the UNC system does not seem to be greatly affected by this trend.

"Fortunately, this study does not apply to the UNC system," said Steve Brooks, executive director of the N.C. State Education Assistance Authority, "North Carolina is moving in the other direction."

Brooks said North Carolina already focuses more on need-based financial aid than merit-based programs such as Georgia's Hope scholarships.

And Brooks added that North Carolina is actually pushing for more money for need-based financial aid.

UNC-system officials requested $37 million in their 2001-03 budget request to fully fund a statewide need-based aid program.

Shirley Ort, UNC director of scholarships and student aid, also said the study does not apply to UNC.

"The trend cited in the study is not a problem at UNC," she said. "About 95 percent of all the financial aid we administer each year goes to financial-aid eligible students, most of whom are low-income to lower middle-income. The remaining 5 percent goes to students as academic scholarships."

Ort said UNC has a tradition of providing financial aid to needy students.

"Carolina has a excellent track record in this area of serving students with need -- of opening doors to an education they could not otherwise afford."

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