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The Learning Conference 2003

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Governmental and Institutional Policies That Limit Access and Persistence for Low-income Students in the U.S.

Prof. Carol Camp Yeakey.

This paper will discuss the policy implications of three recent actions by the federal and state governments in the U.S. that will have a major impact on access and persistence in postsecondary education. The first action was the passage of the 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, referred to as the No Child Left Behind Act. The second action is the increase in spending on national defence (the U.S. war against terrorism). The final action is the proposed cuts to education in many states. All of these actions have the potential to negatively affect access to postsecondary education for low-income students and persistence for low-income and minority students (Mumper, 2002).

The problem of access and persistence among low income and minority students remains one of the most significant challenges facing higher education in the U.S. According to the National Longitudinal Education Study (NELS) only 64 percent of low-income 1992 high school graduates enrolled in a postsecondary institution by 1994. Nearly all of upper-income students in the same cohort were enrolled by 1994 (Berkner and Chavez, 1997). Also of concern is the fact that low-income students and students of color who gain access to postsecondary education have a significantly lower retention rate than their white peers.

While the 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act will affect the type of education low-income students receive, changes in state and federal support of postsecondary education also have the potential to limit access and persistence for low-income students. With an emphasis on primary and secondary education, President Bush's proposed education budget does not provide for adequate increases in federal financial aid for higher education. According to administration officials, "with the attacks on September 11 [2001], and the government's war against terrorism, the country's priorities have shifted. Much of the new money Mr. Bush has asked for would go to the Defense Department, and to various other federal agencies to help protect the country from future attacks" (Burd, 2002a).

At the same time that federal financial aid is remaining stagnant, many states are planning to cut funding to postsecondary education because of revenue shortfalls (Kerr, 2002). The slow economic growth during the 2002 fiscal year has led to an estimated $27 billion shortfall in state coffers. Twenty-nine states have already or expect to cut funding for postsecondary education for fiscal year 2003 (NCSL, 2002). While financial support of higher education is being cut the remaining dollars are being restricted due to drug laws restricting access and support; attacks on affirmative action; and the elimination of remedial education at 4-year institutions.

Berkner, L.K., and Chavez, L. (1997). Access to Postsecondary Education for the 1992 High School Graduates. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
Burd, S. (2002a). Tight Budget Plan for Student Aid Worries Colleges, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 15, 2002.
Kerr, C. et. al. (2002). Troubled Times for American Higher Education, The 1990's and Beyond. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Mumper, M. (2002). Removing College Price Barriers: What Government Has Done and Why it Hasn't Worked. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) (2002). State Fiscal Update. Washington, DC: National Conference of State Legislators.


Prof. Carol Camp Yeakey  (United States)

Curry School of Education
University of Virginia, USA

  • Access
  • Persistence
  • Public Policy
  • Minority Students
  • Low-income Students

(30 min Conference Paper, English)