Science & Tech

What determines who goes to college and who does not?

1 min read

Researcher examines unintended consequences of public policies

More than ever, policymakers are adopting merit-based, rather than need-based, financial aid programs, a trend that disquiets Harvard Graduate School of Education Assistant Professor Bridget Terry Long. In Georgia, for instance, a new state policy offers students with a B-average or higher free tuition at an in-state public college of their choice. Such plans are widely popular among voters, says Long, therefore they have cropped up in over 20 states. “On the surface it sounds great,” says Long. “You want to make sure that any kid who does well in school gets to go to college for free. But the repercussions of the policies have been very different.” Although the Georgia plan has cost $1.2 billion over the last seven years, it has only increased enrollment by about 100,000 students. That means that, in the end, 80 percent of the funds went to students who would have gone to college anyway. At the same time, the program boosted University of Georgia state schools’ average incoming SAT scores by about 100 points, making it more difficult for lower-scoring students to gain admission.