How Colleges Disadvantage Low-Income Students With Higher Tuition Rates

Higher education shouldn’t be a financial burden.

Every year, college freshmen around the country decide where they will spend the next four years during college. While some have the luxury of choice, many students don’t want to take on thousands of dollars in debt. For them, the lowest net price is the determining factor.

But in recent years, multiple colleges have been caught charging lower-income students higher tuition rates than those students whose families have more money. This alarming trend is purposely disadvantaging students who need the most financial aid.

Here, we examine which schools are guilty of doing this and how you can fight back.

Understanding the Financial Burden on Low-Income Students

While there are tools to help calculate the net cost of tuition for various universities, most of these are inaccurate. In an audit published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in November 2022, nine out of 10 colleges do not include or underestimate total cost of attendance.

This makes getting accurate information for those on a tight budget extremely difficult. Once they commit to a university, they’re often blindsided with a much higher bill than they anticipated.

And while the cost of colleges has been on the rise for years across the country, some have been raising the price of tuition for those students whose net income is under $30,000 per year. The study found that nearly 20 schools are favoring students’ with incomes of $110,000 per year or more.

Examining the Evidence

17 different colleges across 14 different states raised the price of tuition for lower-income students. The gaps range in value, but it’s clear that various universities are incentivizing higher-income students to attend versus lower-income students.

  1. Brenau University, Georgia
    • Tuition gap: $5,165
  2. Hannibal-LaGrange University, Missouri
    • Tuition gap: $5,117
  3. Columbia College, Missouri
    • Tuition gap: $5,029
  4. Houghton College, New York
    • Tuition gap: $4,223
  5. Chaminade University of Honolulu, Hawaii
    • Tuition gap: $4,100
  6. Fisk University, Tennessee
    • Tuition gap: $2,932
  7. Sarah Lawrence College, New York
    • Tuition gap: $1,882
  8. Missouri Valley College, Missouri
    • Tuition gap: $1,804
  9. Mississippi Valley State University, Mississippi
    • Tuition gap: $1,798
  10. St. Andrews University, North Carolina
    • Tuition gap: $1,685
  11. Point University, Georgia
    • Tuition gap: $1,336
  12. Valparaiso University, Indiana
    • $1,130
  13. Shorter University, Georgia
    • Tuition gap: $610
  14. Northwest College, Wyoming
    • Tuition gap: $450
  15. Laguna College of Art and Design, California
    • Tuition gap: $405
  16. Southern New Hampshire University
    • Tuition gap: $162
  17. Texas College, Texas
    • Tuition gap: $152

Navigating the System

So how are you supposed to accurately calculate tuition in order to make an informed decision? Thankfully, The Hechinger Report has provided a free tuition tracker that more accurately measures cost of attendance.

The tracker (which can be found here) uses Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data from the federal government to get their numbers. This means theres a far less chance the data is skewed or biased.

Since the report has been published, the gaps in tuition have slowly started to close. However, it’s clear students will need to do their own research before committing to a college.

Be sure to check out these top scholarships available for AAPI students.