A promise kept or a threat to the public good?

With the University of MinnesotaâÄôs U Promise scholarship program offering a âÄúfree-tuitionâÄù policy for low-income students, the University was demonstrating that they were committed to the public good. Recent decisions on the Promise Scholarship suggest that commitment has changed to one for the private good.
A private good is whatâÄôs good for an individual or institution in power (usually); a public good is what is good for the public and community. Decreasing economic stratification by providing opportunities for low-income students to access higher education would be a public good.
A federal government committee on financial aid found three primary factors leading to a crisis in access to higher education: âÄú(1) the rising cost of higher education as a percentage of low-income family income; (2) the shifting of policy priorities away from access at all levels to middle-income affordability and merit resulting in a rise in unmet need on the part of low-income students; and (3) consequent choices on the part of students (i.e. working long hours, attending school part-time, and borrowing heavily) that lower the probability of degree completion.âÄù
Given the shift away from âÄúfree tuitionâÄù and changes with the Promise Scholarship coupled with higher tuition and overall costs, it appears that the University is contributing to the access crisis instead of solving it.
The University touts the number of Promise Scholarships awarded âÄî this is a mistake. The point of the Promise Scholarship is about meeting the unmet needs of students. The University could theoretically give a scholarship to every student who enrolls. But if this scholarship is only $5 per student, what good would that do to cover tuition, fees and expenses? If the University is a public good, the focus then would be on giving the maximum amount of money to those who need it the most and then gradually awarding funds to those in less need.
Instead, the University seems to be going in a different direction by spreading what little money remains on middle-income students. In other words, they are taking money from the poorer to give to the richer.
Middle-income families are meaningfully richer than the poor. It might be wise, though most likely too late, to consider the federal savings, tax benefits and IRA withdrawal protections for middle-income families paying for higher education. If these tax benefits and credits were factored in when determining the amount of Promise Scholarship awards, it would be easy to see that most middle-income families have significantly more resources available to them for higher education expenses than truly low-income families.
Not considering these benefits gives a false impression that middle-income families have little resources other than loans. This is not the case. If the University was concerned about the public good, they would factor in these benefits for the middle class and shift money back to low-income students who truly have the most need.
Finally, what happens to low-income students when the Federal Pell Grant is significantly cut? Students are locked into the scholarship amount they receive freshman year because of how the Promise program is set up and will need to get more loans to cover a smaller Pell award and higher tuition and fees.
Low-income students will be in greater debt when they graduate, which means buying a house and raising a family will be delayed to pay off the debt. Middle-income students have resources designed to help them reduce debt; low-income students, unfortunately, do not. They will sink deeper into debt.
These are only a few examples of how recent financial aid decisions are threatening higher education as a public good. Taking money from students in need might be whatâÄôs good for the institution, but it is devastating to students, something an institution of higher education devoted to the public good should be trying to avoid.