In this article, Gary Orfield explores the nature of the relationship between money and access to college, particularly for minority and poor students. Decades after a massive federal government commitment to making a college education available to all, Orfield contends, minority and low-income access is declining, and financial aid is going to middle-class students who could manage without it.

Orfield relates how the goal of making higher education accessible to all got sidetracked as he chronicles the policy debate over student aid through the 1980s and early 1990s. He tells a story of political opportunism, insufficient outreach, bureaucratic insensitivity, and a failure to distinguish cultural differences with regard to borrowing — a story of institutions and faculties protecting themselves through tuition increases without seriously debating social consequences. It is not, however,a story of declining interest in, or aptitude for, college among low-income and minority students. Orfield shows a substantial link between dollars and college attendance, and examines policies that have clearly made things worse for those most in need of assistance — policies that are nevertheless maintained because of political deadlock. He concludes that hard choices must be made if college access is to be restored without greatly increased expenditures, and he then delineates those choices.

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