Federal financial aid unequal among SD colleges

    Department of Education records obtained by the Guardian reveal substantial gaps in the amount of federal financial aid provided to three San Diego universities.

    San Diego State received $3.11 for each student that applied for government benefits in order to pay for its low-interest Perkins loan program. This is nearly 15 times less than University of San Diego¹s $45.36. The federal government gave UCSD $20.78 per financial aid applicant, according to data from the 2001-02 academic year.

    In federal work-study funds, USD received over three times the sum provided to UCSD and SDSU.

    A similar analysis by The New York Times of statistics from the previous year, published in a Nov. 9 article, found that federal distribution of financial aid disproportionately favors wealthy private institutions.

    Unlike individual benefits, such as Cal Grants and scholarships, which students can use at any university, the government allocates money for work-study and Perkins loans directly to colleges, which choose which students receive funding.

    “”There is an old formula ‹ it¹s been around for a long time ‹ that allocates funds to universities based on their Œconditional guarantees¹ and their Œfair share,¹”” said Vince De Anda, UCSD¹s financial aid director. “”It¹s been there for a long time.””

    When the government first began to give campus-based funding more than 30 years ago, the amounts were decided not by formulas, but by how well a university could make its case to groups of educational experts. The schools that did a better job in lobbying received a bigger portion of the aid, and current Œconditional guarantees¹ remain largely based on these original appropriations, according to the New York Times.

    Under laws passed since 1980, legislators approved a different approach, using a “”fair share”” formula. However, to ensure that colleges did not receive less than they had been getting before, the new arrangement affected only new money added to the programs.

    Funding has remained stagnant for the last 15 years, meaning that there has been virtually nothing to distribute using the “”fair share”” system, De Anda said. Universities have the same distribution, which does not take into account the need of current students or surges in student population.

    “”The other thing that happens, I think, is that schools that grow tend to lose out on a per-capita basis,”” De Anda said.

    Both UCSD and USD get approximately $2.3 million for their campus-based programs, but almost 8,000 more UCSD students applied for financial aid in 2001. The UCSD population has grown by 32 percent since 1990, compared to USD¹s 17 percent increase during the same time while its federal funding has remained nearly equal, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission.

    These programs, however, represent only a portion of financial aid awarded to students.

    “”Campus-based programs have become a very small part of the total financial aid package. When they started off, they were a major portion, but of late, the federal Š funding has pretty much diminished,”” De Anda said. “”These figures have been fairly stagnant, and as a portion of the financial aid pie, they¹re very small.””

    The $2.3 million represents 1.6 percent of the $141.8 million in aid awarded to UCSD students in the 2002-03 school year. For the entire state, less than 4 percent of the financial help came in the form of campus-based aid, according to the California Student Aid Commission.

    Federal Pell grants and subsidized loans, which go directly to students no matter what college they attend, and other support provided by individual institutions make up the majority of the aid obtained by low-income students.

    De Anda said he does not expect a big windfall if Congress makes any changes when it reexamines funding programs in 2004.

    “”If you were to go back and restructure this, it might mean taking pennies and dollars away from one school and giving it to another school,”” he said. “”It¹s not going to make too big of a difference in anybody¹s program.””

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