Goldrick-Rab talks outcomes for college students receiving need-based aid

Image By: Ben Golden and Ben Golden

Former UW-Madison professor Sara Goldrick-Rab returned to the area Friday to present findings from her recently published book, “Paying the Price.”

Goldrick-Rab, who left the school last year for Temple University after sharp critiques of UW-Madison and the UW System, launched a study in 2008 following 3,000 low-income students throughout the system that received need-based aid and what those students’ higher educational outcomes looked like.

The Federal Pell Grant, which Goldrick-Rab said many of the study’s students qualified for, covered roughly 80 percent of the cost for a four-year college in its beginning stages. These days, she said it only pays for about one-third.

Comparing the Pell Grant to using a discount coupon at an expensive restaurant, Goldrick-Rab said it gets students to try college “because it’s giving you a discount.”

“But once you get to the table… you find out that this thing doesn’t have the value that you thought it did,” she said. “And by the time you get the bill and realize you don’t have the money to pay for it, it’s too late. You already ate the food. You can’t give it back.”

Goldrick-Rab detailed the ways in which Wisconsin could turn things around for low-income students who are not seeing help from their financial aid package, like adapting the National School Lunch Program for higher education and halting construction of apartments like The Hub, instead allowing for mixed-income housing.

The way to drive down these prices and change attitudes is to talk to people, she said—and not just about freezing tuition.

“It’s the cost of things like housing, and food, and transportation, and books and supplies and medical care,” Goldrick-Rab argued. “These are the bulk of the costs of attending college. And if you can’t deal with those costs and don’t deal with those costs, then you are not making college more affordable for most people.”

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