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.