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Financial Aid Issues

Financial Aid Issues

An interesting debate seems to be developing – though, to date, in somewhat disorganized fashion — over financial aid conventions. I know the subject has come up in Richmond, and quite likely it has wider currency.

The topic has to be of concern. Reductions in state budgets have prompted tuition increases at a difficult time for many people. Student indebtedness, in terms of national averages, has unsurprisingly risen. Institutions like George Mason are keenly aware of the pressures on financial aid and have devoted some portion of the annual budget to this category along with accelerating efforts in private philanthropy.

All of this naturally warrants conversation. The new twist, however, is a concern about whether it’s legitimate to use any tuition revenue to bolster the financial aid category — in essence, using money from more affluent students and their families to support the less affluent.

Of course there are issues of principle here, though financial aid has long assumed legitimacy. There are also new issues of middle-class burden.  Without doubt, in the current economic climate, tuition is harder to come by for some in the middle class who do not yet explicitly fall in the need category. It’s legitimate to discuss this problem as well.

At the same time, when we know that income disparities and poverty are both increasing, I do worry that too much reconsideration will simply ignore social realities at a real national cost down the line. To me — though I am open to further discussion — the most obvious desideratum is not to rethink basic principle but to make sure that need levels themselves are properly identified.

It’s revealing, nevertheless, that a wider review may be in the air, unquestionably reflecting political calculations as well as sober factual appraisal. If a debate materializes, I hope there will opportunity for wide input.