The Washington D.C.-based Urban Institute urges policymakers to do a better job of informing families that a lot of help is available.
A new report about college-going nationwide underscores how much financial aid is available to low-income families, yet shows that many do not take advantage of it.
According to the report by the Urban Institute, “low-income, first-generation and minority families are particularly vulnerable to misconceptions concerning college costs.” If these families were made more aware of how feasible it is to go to college, they might be more likely to go, according to the report.
The Urban Institute, a nonprofit, social-science research group, urges policy-makers to find better ways of getting the word out about financial aid, to reach out to families while their children are young, and to personalize the information — going beyond just telling families about a website they can visit to gather information.
It notes that 90 percent of undergraduates who come from families with incomes below $40,000 received an average of more than $11,000 in grant aid from federal, state and institutional sources in 2011-12. And students whose families made less than $30,000 received enough aid, on average, to cover tuition, with enough left over to help with books and living expenses.
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Nationally, fewer than half of students from low-income households enroll in college, and of those who do, 12 percent do not apply for financial aid.
In Washington, about 49 percent of low-income students (those who participated in the federal free/reduced lunch program) enrolled in college after graduating from high school in 2013, according to the state’s Education Research and Data Center. Most of those students went to community college; only about 19 percent enrolled in a four-year college. That’s a slight improvement from 2008, when 47 percent went to college, 16 percent to a four-year college.
Washington’s College Bound program, which offers to cover college tuition and book costs for low-income students, is widely believed to be increasing the number of low-income students who go on to college. But the program is only available to students who sign up by eighth grade, and meet the income criteria at that time.