Colorado State University, despite the fact that it’s in the midst of a higher education funding crisis, has come up with a new plan to make tuition more affordable to all low-income Colorado students admitted. From an article by Beckie Supiano in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Through the program, known as the “Commitment to Colorado,” the university would guarantee to cover the price of tuition and fees for in-state students who are eligible for federal Pell Grants with a combination of federal, state, and institutional grant aid. In-state students with annual family incomes of $57,000 or less would have at least half the price of tuition, but not fees, covered by grant aid.

The university expects about 3,760 students, or 21 percent of in-state undergraduates, to be covered under the new program.

This appears to be a reasonably progressive gesture is admirable but it’s also not a real solution to the problem, which is that Colorado cut funding for the school by $30-million, or 23 percent, over the last three years.

According to the article:

The university decided to include students whose families made up to $57,000—the median family income in the state—because “there is a lot of pressure on middle-income families” who do not qualify for other sources of need-based grant aid, [Colorado State President Tony] Frank said.

You know why there’s a lot of pressure? Because the college is too expensive. The implication here is that students from families who make more than $57,000 a year can afford tuition and fees at Colorado State, which come to some $18,022 a year.

State colleges are increasingly taking this tactic, make tuition very expensive but promising generous aid to the state’s poorest students. When the University of California raised tuition 32 percent last year the system’s president, Mark Yudof, explained that three- quarters of students “would be shielded from the effects of the tuition increase by additional financial aid.”

The whole point of public higher education is to provide low-cost instruction to everyone who can be admitted. Just because a family makes above the median income doesn’t mean it’s appropriate, or effective policy, to force them to pay through the nose for college. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer