Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
GM crops-Part2: The myth about food security

The hype for promoting GM is that it increases food security. India produced bumper stocks of food grains, all without GM, yet 200 million people are hungry. GM will not address the issues of poverty, poor storage and corruption, which deprive the poor of food. This is the second part of a three-part series|

GM and food security:
GM is now encountering consumer resistance to its further expansion in most of the developed world. Given its huge profitability for companies who own or license patented GM seeds, there is enormous pressure for introducing GM crops in the developing world. In India, field trials and commercial release is being sought for as many as 17 GM crops. This includes food crops like rice, wheat, jowar, sorghum, groundnut, corn, potato, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, brinjal, mustard, watermelon, papaya and sugarcane.
 

The Technical Expert Committee (TEC) majority report observes that GM crops are mainly used for oil or animal feed elsewhere and states, “…Nowhere are Bt trans-genics being widely consumed in large amounts for any major food crop that is directly used for human consumption. The TEC could not find any compelling reason for India to be the first to do so”.
 

The hype for promoting GM is that it increases food security, whereas the truth is that GM has nothing to do with food security. India produced bumper stocks of food grains, all without GM, yet 200 million people are hungry even though buffer food stocks are two and a half times the official requirement. Food grains have rotted or been siphoned out of an inefficient and corrupt Public Distribution System (PDS), whose leakages have been estimated at 45%. The Agriculture Minister himself estimates food wastages cost Rs4500 million. Technology, GM or otherwise, is not the answer for this.
 

Even in countries where GM has been widely adopted, such as in the US, the food insecurity in 1995 was 12% (before the introduction of GM crops) and rose to 15% in 2011. In Paraguay, though nearly 65 % of the land is under GM, hunger has increased from 12.6% in 2004-06 to 25.5% in 2010-12. It is essential to question the unsubstantiated hype that GM will contribute to food security and look at the real causes of food insecurity. GM will not address the issues of poverty, poor storage and corruption, which deprive the poor of food. Nor does it provide the most effective way to increase production. A United Nations 2011 press release on its report “Agro-ecology and the right to food” states that: “Small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by using ecological methods.” Such agro-ecological methods are also safer from an environmental and health perspective.  
 

GM effects on health and environment: The hype is that GM foods are safe because US citizens have been eating them since 1996 and nobody has dropped dead because of GM food consumption. The truth is that GM food was approved in that country without any mandatory labeling as it was deemed to be ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GM food. Michael Taylor, was the deputy commissioner for Policy at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He later became vice-president of Monsanto and is again back as deputy commissioner for Foods at USFDA. This is just one of the many examples of the revolving door in the US between GM regulators and GM corporates. Without labeling, it is impossible to pinpoint impacts and liability.
 

US consumers are now demanding it and GM corporates are strenuously resisting it. While it may take decades to prove the link between GM and illness, as happened for tobacco, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has stated. “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects ... Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including upregulation of cytokines (protein molecules involved in immune responses) associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation”. 
 

In their critical review on “Health risks of genetically modified foods 2009”, A Dona and IS Arvanitoyannis of the Dept of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, University of Athens, states that “Most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal and reproductive effects and may alter haematological (blood), biochemical, and immunologic parameters, the significance of which remains to be solved with chronic toxicity studies”.
 

On the other hand, regulators, who clear GM crops, emphasise that there are no proven health risks. Those who question their safety, point out that US regulators do not mandate independent long-term studies but rely on industry studies. These are of only 90 days on rats, which is equivalent to 10 to 15 years of a human lifespan and too short to show organ damage or cancer. One of the first long term studies (two years on rats) by French professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, at the Committee for Research & Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), showed that incidence of tumours and mortality were several fold higher for rats fed GM herbicide tolerant maize and its related herbicide than for the control group. The study has been criticised by some scientists and supported by others, but certainly reinforces the need for long-term independent research before GM approvals and the need for post release monitoring.
 

The TEC of the Supreme Court has recorded that the Ministry of Agriculture has admitted that segregation of GM and non GM food will not be feasible in India. This would effectively impinge on the rights of consumers to GM free food, at a time when the safety of GM food and any overwhelming need for it are yet far from being conclusively established. This apart, reports (Charles Benbrook and others) point to the fact that herbicide use has increased significantly in the US after it adopted GM corn, soybeans and cotton, whereas US insecticide use has decreased only slightly but is still high compared to European countries,  which do not use GM crops. These studies negate the claim that GM reduces pesticide use.
 

Similarly, though the hype is that there is no environmental damage, the truth is that there are almost 200 studies pointing to possible adverse impacts on soil microbes, agriculturally beneficial species such as pollinators and pest controllers, unintended gene transfer, imbalances developing due to GM resistant pests and plants. Extracts of all these studies are available over here. There is often a lack of understanding of the difference between technology and ecology. The effects of the former are limited and the technological applications can be halted or corrected as evidence of harm emerges. Ecological processes consist of highly complex inter-relationships, and any major intervention in living ecosystems may take time to manifest and are virtually impossible to predict, control or reverse.    
 

In the absence of conclusive proof of safety, the Precautionary Principle embodied in the United Nations Rio Declaration needs to be adopted. This is all the more necessary in view of the fact that GM has not yet shown significant benefits that make it worth incurring these risks. It is significant that introduction of new GM crops in the US is languishing and that most other countries have either rejected or severely restricted GM. India would be wise to move with equal caution. 
 

You may want to read..

GM crops-Part 1: The truth about genetically modified foods

 

(Dilnavaz Variava has been involved with the environmental movement in India for close to 40 years. She has held many roles, including CEO of WWF-India, Vice-President of the Bombay Natural History Society-BNHS, and on several apex committees of the Govt of India. Since about 10 years, ever since she was asked to Chair the Working Group on the Ecological Foundations for Sustainable Agriculture for a Govt of Maharashtra Expert Group on Agriculture,  she has been closely involved with this subject. She is  Honorary Convener of the Consumer Group of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture- ASHA)

User

The story of filing online RTI is only getting happier

After several weeks of disgust over political parties trying to slip out of the RTI Act, good news beckons for citizens in India and abroad who want to file RTI online

Do you want to seek information under Right to Information (RTI) about public distribution of grains or demand a copy of your answer sheet in your Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination or seek details about a water conservation project of a gram panchayat, at the click of the mouse? Now, the Department of Food Supplies and Distribution, UPSC and the Ministry of Panchayati Raj—in fact 37 ministries or departments of the central government—have opened up the facility to file RTI online (see PDF at end of this piece for the list of the 37 ministries/ departments). The circular issued by the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) under the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, on 30 July 2013, had claimed that by August 2013, all ministries and central government departments would have the online RTI filing facility. But that is yet to materialise. Despite this convenience that will further strengthen and make the use of RTI easy, there has been no awareness of the programs by the government.
 

In order that the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) and Appellate Authorities (AA) who are the first contact points for RTI applicants, the circular recommended that, “It is again requested that training to all the CPIOs and First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) may be provided by the concerned Ministry/ Department, through the officials trained by DoPT or National Informatics Centre (NIC). If required, further training can be provided by DoPT or NIC, on the request of the concerned Ministry/ Department. User name/ password to all the CPIOs and FAAs are to be provided by RTI Nodal Officers of the concerned Ministry/ Department. It is imperative that the RTI Nodal Officers update the details of CPIOs/ FAAs in the system and issue user name and password to them at the earliest.’’
 

As for Indians residing abroad, thanks to the persistent efforts of noted RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd.) since last five years, now 2,639 public authorities in Indian missions abroad, are open for online RTI applications along with fees via e-IPO. They cover various central government departments and ministries. Batra is also campaigning for availability of e-IPO facility for those residing in India too.
 

States Batra, “I sent 130 emails to Indian Missions  between 19th to 24th August by searching their email ids in this link. As on 24 August 2013; I found 37 of the total 125 Missions (30%) have indicated e-IPO information on their website. During this process, I noticed the poor quality of information posted on RTI links on websites of majority of Missions. While many others have done a good job, searching RTI link within the website of Missions is itself is a job. I feel all of them should display the RTI link on HOME page of each Mission's website.’’
 

Following is a sample of the emails Batra sent, reflecting his relentless efforts towards making use of RTI, cyber savvy. This one is to the deputy chief of mission, Vietnam and crisply contains the backdrop of his campaign and its fruition:
 

From: Lokesh Batra [email protected]

To: Vietnam- Deputy Chief of Mission ; HOC ; Counsellor [email protected]

Cc: "[email protected]"

Sent: Friday, August 23, 2013 10:01 PM

Subject: Fm.Commodore Lokesh Batra: Creating awareness among ‘Indian Citizens’ abroad’ regarding facility of eIPO Payment of RTI Fee in FE, under RTI Act, 2005

 23 August 2013

 To,

The Central Public information Officers (CPIOs)

Indian Missions / Posts

 

 Sub: Creating awareness among ‘Indian Citizens’ abroad’ regarding facility of eIPO for Payment of RTI Fee in FE, under RTI Act, 2005

 

 Dear Madam/Sir,

 1. I am writing to draw your attention to the MOIA and MEA circular letters on the subject “Creating awareness among ‘Indian Citizens’ abroad’ regarding facility of eIPO for payment of RTI Fee in FE, under RTI Act, 2005”.

2. The details of two circular letters are as follow:

(a) MOIA circular letter F.NO.OI.11016/22/2013-FS dated 23 July 2013 and

(b) MEA circular letter No.RTI/558/01/2012 dated 02 August 2013.

3. The Government of India on 22 March 2013 had launched ‘Electronic Indian Postal Order’ (more known as e-IPO) to facilitate payment of RTI fee from abroad in FE by the Indian Citizens’ abroad.

4. Though it has been 05 months since the government facilitated e-IPO as mode of payment of RTI Fee by ‘Indian Citizens’ abroad’; I have not seen this information being disseminated on your mission’s website.

5. The website of Indian Embassy in Moscow has already included this information in their RTI link as below: http://www.indianembassy.ru/index.php/en/embassy/right-to-information  

6. I humbly request you to implement the directions contained in the MOIA and MEA circulars respectively, in letter and spirit. MOIA & MEA letters attached.

 

Yours’ Sincerely,

[Commodore Lokesh K Batra (Retd.)]

Social & RTI Activist

BringChangeNow

H-02, Sector-25, Jalvayu Vihar, Noida-201301, INDIA

 

Steered by Batra, hundreds of Indians living abroad had joined in his campaign. Unarguably, efforts for online RTI application and payment have been achieved single-handedly by Batra. For earlier stories, see these links:

2013 wakes up to online payment of RTI applications for Indians abroad

Near victory for Indians abroad for filing online RTI applications

 


 

SrNo

Mission

eIPO link

Remarks

1

Afghanistan

No

 

2

Algiers

No

 

3

Angola

No

 

4

Argentina

No

 

5

Armenia

No

 

6

Australia

No

 

7

Austria

No

 

8

Azerbaijan

Yes

(But no RTI Link)

9

Bahrain

No

 

10

Bangladesh

No

 

11

Belarus

No

 

12

Belgium

Yes

 

13

Bhutan

Yes

 

14

Botswana

 

No RTI Link seen

15

Brazil

No

 

16

Brunei Darussalam

No

 

17

Bulgaria

Yes

 

18

Cambodia

No

 

19

Canada

Yes

 

20

Chile

Yes

 

21

China

Yes

 

22

Colombia

Yes

 

23

Congo

No

 

24

Ivory Coast

No

No RTI Link seen

25

Croatia

Yes

 

26

Cuba

No

 

27

Cyprus

Yes

 

28

Czech Republic

Yes

 

29

Denmark

No

 

30

Egypt

 

Website not opening

31

Ethiopia

No

 

32

Fiji

No

 

33

Finland

 

RTI link: Blank

34

France

Yes

 

35

Germany

Yes

 

36

Ghana

No

eIPO info under announcement

37

Greece

No

 

38

Guatemala

No

 

39

Guyana

No

 

40

Hungary

No

No RTI Link seen

41

Iceland

Yes

 

42

Indonesia

No

 

43

Iran

No

 

44

Iraq

 

Web Site link not available

45

Ireland

Yes

 

46

Israel

 

Website not opening

47

Italy

No

 

48

Jamaica

No

 

49

Japan

Yes

 

50

Jordan

No

 

51

Kazakhstan

No

 

52

Kenya

No

 

53

Korea (DPR)

 

Web Site link not available

54

Korea (ROK) Seoul

No

 

55

Kuwait

Yes

 

56

Kyrgyzstan

No

 

57

Laos

Yes

 

58

Lebanon

No

 

59

Libya

No

 

60

Madagascar

 

RTI Link still under construction

61

Malaysia

Yes

 

62

Maldives

Yes

 

63

Mali

Yes

 

64

Mauritius

No

 

65

Mexico

No

 

66

Mongolia

No

 

67

Morocco

No

 

68

Mozambique

No

 

69

Myanmar

No

 

70

Namibia

No

 

71

Nepal

No

No RTI Link seen

72

Netherlands

No

 

73

New Zealand

Yes

 

74

Niger

 

RTI Link has no Info

75

Nigeria

No

 

76

Norway

No

 

77

Oman

Yes

 

78

Pakistan

No

 

79

Palestine

No

 

80

Panama

No

 

81

Papua New Guinea

No

 

82

Peru

No

 

83

Philippines

No

 

84

Poland

No

 

85

Portugal

No

 

86

Qatar

No

 

87

Romania

Yes

 

88

Russia

Yes

 

89

Saudi Arabia

Yes

 

90

Senegal

 

Website not opening

91

Serbia

Yes

 

92

Seychelles

No

 

93

Singapore

Yes

 

94

Slovak Republic

Yes

At the bottom of RTI Link

95

Slovenia

No

 

96

South Africa

No

 

97

South Sudan

 

Web Site link not available

98

Spain

Yes

 

99

Sri Lanka

Yes

 

100

Sudan

No

 

101

Suriname

No

 

102

Sweden

Yes

 

103

Switzerland

 

Website not opening

104

Syria

No

 

105

Tajikistan

No

 

106

Tanzania

No

 

107

Thailand

Yes

 

108

Trinidad & Tobago

No

 

109

Tunisia

Yes

 

110

Turkey

Yes

 

111

Turkmenistan

 

Web Site link not available

112

Uganda

No

 

113

Ukraine

No

 

114

United Arab Emirates

No

 

115

United Kingdom

Yes

 

116

United States of America

Yes

 

117

UN-PMI (CD) Geneva

No

 

118

UN-PMI (Geneva)

No

 

119

UN-PMI (New York)

No

 

120

Uzbekistan

No

 

121

Venezuela

No

 

122

Vietnam

No

 

123

Yemen

No

No RTI Link seen

124

Zambia

No

No RTI Link seen

125

Zimbabwe

No

No RTI Link seen (Only RTI Act Link available)

Compiled by: Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd.)

 

(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”)


 

User

COMMENTS

nagesh kini

3 years ago

Thanks Vinita for this vital piece of information that will go to make RTI applications much more simpler for the common man.
Sending the amendment to a Select Committee is just another way of putting it on the back burner - an exercise not to antagonize the educated voter who has been fed the info that RTI is a 'aam admi ke sath, congress ka hath' phenomenon!

nagesh kini

3 years ago

Thanks Vinita for this vital piece of information that will go to make RTI applications much more simpler for the common man.
Sending the amendment to a Select Committee is just another way of putting it on the back burner - an exercise not to antagonize the educated voter who has been fed the info that RTI is a 'aam admi ke sath, congress ka hath' phenomenon!

Public universities in US ramp up aid for the wealthy, leaving poor behind

Chasing prestige and battered by state funding cuts, many public colleges and universities with a historic responsibility to provide access to an affordable education have turned to "financial aid leveraging," offering wealthy or high-scoring students discounts on tuition

This story was co-published with The Chronicle of Higher Education.
 

Shauniqua Epps was the sort of student that so many colleges say they want.

She was a high achiever, graduating from high school with a 3.8 GPA and ranking among the top students in her class. She served as secretary, then president, of the student government. She played varsity basketball and softball. Her high-school guidance counselor, in a letter of recommendation, wrote that Epps was “an unusual young lady” with “both drive and determination.”
 

Epps, 19, was also needy.
 

Four Takeaways

Her family lives in subsidized housing in South Philadelphia, and her father died when she was in third grade. Her mother is on Social Security disability, which provides the family $698 a month, records show. Neither of her parents finished high school.
 

Epps, who is African-American, made it her goal to be the first in her family to attend college.
 

“I did volunteering. I did internships. I did great in school. I was always good with people,” said Epps, who has a broad smile and a cheerful manner. “I thought everything was going to go my way.”
 

At first, it looked that way.
 

Epps was admitted to three colleges, all public institutions in Pennsylvania. She was awarded the maximum Pell grant, federal funds intended for needy students. She also qualified for the maximum state grant for needy Pennsylvania students.
 

None of the three schools Epps was admitted to give her a single dollar of aid.
 

To attend her dream school, Lincoln University, Epps would have had to come up with about $4,000 per year, after maxing out on federal loans — close to half of what her mother receives from Social Security. It was money her family didn’t have, she said.
 

Public colleges and universities were generally founded and funded to give students in their states access to an affordable college education. They have long served as a vital pathway for students from modest means and those who are the first in their families to attend college.
 

But many public universities, faced with their own financial shortfalls, are increasingly leaving low-income students behind — including strivers like Epps.
 

It’s not just that colleges are continuously pushing up sticker prices. Public universities have also been shifting their aid, giving less to the poorest students and more to the wealthiest.
 

A ProPublica analysis of new data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that from 1996 through 2012, public colleges and universities gave a declining portion of grants — as measured by both the number of grants and the dollar amounts — to students in the lowest quartile of family income. That trend has continued even though the recession hit those in lower income brackets  the hardest.
 


Attention has long been focused on the lack of economic diversity at private colleges, especially at the most elite schools. What has been little discussed, by contrast, is how public universities, which enroll far more students, have gradually shifted their priorities — and a growing portion of their aid dollars — away from low-income students.
 

State schools are typically considered to offer the most affordable, accessible four-year education students can get. When those schools raise tuition and don’t offer more aid, low-income students are often forced to decide not just which college to attend but whether they can afford to attend college at all.
 

“The most needy students are getting squeezed out,” said Charles Reed, a former chancellor of the California State University system and of the State University System of Florida. “Need-based aid is extremely important to these students and their parents.”

There’s no data on the number of needy but qualified students who are “squeezed out” and don’t make it onto four-year college campuses. But what is clear is that while the number of needy students has been growing, state schools have not kept up.
 

Over roughly two decades, four-year state schools have been educating a shrinking portion of the nation’s lowest-income students, according to an analysis of Pell-grant data by Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the nonprofit Pell Institute. The task of educating low-income students has increasingly fallen to community colleges and for-profit schools.
 

Epps’ top choice, officially known as The Lincoln University, is about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, and was one of the nation’s first historically black colleges. Founded in 1854 to serve African-Americans excluded from other colleges, the school became a public institution in the early 1970s, when the state legislature deemed its mission to be “completely compatible with the needs of the Commonwealth.”
 

All of the school’s own aid typically goes toward athletic or merit-based scholarships, regardless of students’ needs. In the 2009-10 budget, for instance, most of the roughly $3 million in institutional aid went to four specific “merit-based” scholarships — and the rest to athletics, international students, and study abroad, according to data supplied by Lincoln. The only need-based aid available to students is through separate donor-supported scholarships, some of which are earmarked for needy students, said university spokesman Eric Webb.
 

Aid given based on merit or other factors could still go to needy students, but that doesn’t appear to be happening much at Lincoln.
 

Data made available by the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success show that 84 percent of the school’s grant dollars in the 2009-10 school year did not go to meeting students’ needs. (The data does not include athletic scholarships and certain other forms of aid.)
 

At Epps’ second choice, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, two-thirds of aid dollars in 2010-11 went to students who had no documented need for it, according to the latest data available. (East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, the third school that accepted Epps, did not provide a breakdown of institutional grant aid.)

Why have public universities across the nation shifted their aid?
 

“For some schools, they’re trying to climb to the top of the rankings. For other schools, it’s more about revenue generation,” said Don Hossler, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington.
 

To achieve these goals, schools use their aid to draw wealthier students — especially those from out of state, who will pay more in tuition — or higher-achieving students, whose scores will give the colleges a boost in the rankings.
 

Private colleges have been using such tactics aggressively for some time. But in recent years, many public colleges have sought to catch up, doing what the industry calls “financial-aid leveraging.”
 

The math can work like this: Instead of offering, say, $12,000 to an especially needy student, a school might choose to leverage its aid by giving $3,000 discounts to four students with less need, each of whom scored high on the SAT, who together will bring in more tuition dollars than the needier student.
 

Those discounts are often offered to prospective students as “merit aid.”
 

Despite its name, “merit aid isn’t always going to the very best students,” Hossler said. “It’s an intentional strategy to help offset the loss of state support.”
 

Hossler knows this world firsthand. For years, he carried out such strategies as vice chancellor for enrollment services at Indiana University.
 

“One of my charges was to go after what I would call pretty good out-of-state students,” he said. “Not valedictorians, not the top of the class. Students who you didn’t have to give thousands and thousands of dollars to in order to get them to enroll.”
 

Indiana University is not alone in thinking about financial aid this way. Consultants who work with schools on financial-aid strategies said they’ve seen an uptick in interest from public universities in recent years, with many focused on generating more revenue.
 

“When public [universities] come to us individually now, they won’t admit it, but they’re all looking for the same thing — smart students who can pay,” said an industry consultant who asked not to be named.
 

Another industry consultant, Mary Piccioli of Scannell & Kurz, said many of her firm’s public-school clients are looking to use financial aid “to positively impact the bottom line.”
 

College officials often argue that attracting students with more resources means they’ll have more aid to redistribute to those in need.
 

“There’s certainly some truth to that,” said Donald Heller, dean of Michigan State University’s College of Education, who has researched institutional-aid patterns extensively. “But I don’t think that’s really the motivating behavior for many institutions. The more dominant motivating behavior is interest in high-achieving students, which will help them with institutional prestige.”
 

Epps, apparently, didn’t generate that sort of interest.
 

She was in her high school’s computer lab, checking her email, when she saw the message from Lincoln University laying out her financial aid package: a mix of state and federal money but nothing from Lincoln.
 

“Once I saw it, I knew it wasn’t the amount that I needed,” Epps said. “Right away I knew it.”
 

Epps had been getting guidance from Philadelphia Futures, an organization that helps low-income high-school students get into and complete college. When she went through the cost calculations with a coordinator there, it became clear: The money simply didn't add up.
 

At first, Epps said, she blamed herself for not qualifying for aid. She felt like a failure.

“I was kind of upset because I felt as though I worked so hard,” she said. “I kept thinking how I’m not a good test taker.”
 

Epps had scored a combined SAT score of 820 on math and critical reading. In fact, that’s solidly in the middle of Lincoln’s score distributions for many years, according to data reported to the U.S. Department of Education.
 

But what Epps didn’t know is that the school had committed to “continuously improving its SAT and GPA averages for incoming cohorts” — as language found in a strategic planning document put it. She also didn’t know that the school had been spending the majority of its financial aid on students who would help bring up those averages — regardless of whether they needed the money.
 

“To attract top students to your institution, you have to be able to offer them a competitive scholarship package,” said Lincoln University President Robert Jennings. “That’s usually a full-tuition scholarship, that’s a private room sometimes or laptop computer, or a whole bunch of other perks. That’s what schools do. All schools do it.”
 

Rather than giving small discounts to many students, as many colleges do, Lincoln focuses on giving free rides to top scorers – as a Lincoln admissions flyer lays out.
 

The strategy seems to have worked. Lincoln University has raised its scores in recent years. In 2002, half of Lincoln’s incoming freshmen scored between a 360 and 460 on the math section of the SAT. In 2012, half of students scored between 410 and 490.
 

The boost in scores has been no accident, according to Jennings. He said it was a mandate from the Board of Trustees.
 

“They wanted to increase the SAT averages of students coming to Lincoln,” Jennings said.
 

And what about students who may have once been a natural fit but aren’t hitting the higher scores? The school still wants to serve some of them — “because of our historical mission,” explained Jennings. But Lincoln has also increasingly been “trying to steer that lower tier of students — students who need much more help — into community colleges,” he said.
 

Jennings doesn’t see this as a departure from the school’s mission to provide public access. “Absolutely not,” he said. “That’s why you have community colleges. They, too, are public institutions, and we have built collaborative relationships with them.” He added that the school recently launched a campaign to raise more money for scholarships, some of which will go to providing more need-based aid.
 

Like Lincoln, both Millersville University and East Stroudsburg University — the two other colleges that accepted Epps — have created strategic planning documents that include language reflecting a desire to move up academically.
 

In a 2010-15 strategic planning document, East Stroudsburg University outlined the goals of becoming “more selective in each new year” as well as fostering “strategic alignment of financial aid” to better attract top students.
 

“High-achieving and access are not mutually exclusive,” said spokeswoman Brenda Friday. “As such, we look for and recruit students who present both. We also recruit these groups separately. There are funding possibilities available for both groups of students.”

East Stroudsburg and other regional public colleges are in a tough spot. Many don’t have very much aid to give, and most serve a higher percentage of needy students than more prestigious public flagship universities, which have more money from endowments, research and fundraising. It’s a common phenomenon in higher education – students with less money relegated to institutions with less money.
 

In Pennsylvania, as in most states, public higher education has faced steep cuts, especially since the most recent recession. Over the last five years, the state has cut funds for higher education by 18 percent. At public institutions, that’s worked out to about $2,000 less in state and local support per student — a 32 percentage-point drop, according to data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers.
 

“All the arrows point in a direction that shows what we are out doing now is raising revenue. The old business model has sort of broken down,” said Patrick Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute and formerly the head of state higher-education boards and commissions in Montana, Washington and California.
 

“There have probably been no winners from all of this,” Callan said. “But the biggest losers were those who were disadvantaged on the front end.”
 

In high school, Epps went by the nickname “Neeks” with most of her friends. They were a mixed group. Some, like her, fostered hopes of attending college. Others just wanted to finish school and get a job.
 

Though she loved high school, Epps said that looking back she realizes that despite her own efforts, she didn’t get the best education.
 

About a third of the students at her high school didn’t graduate. After she left, the school was among roughly two dozen shuttered by the chronically underfunded School District of Philadelphia.
 

“On a couple of levels, systems are failing these students,” said Ann-Therese Ortiz, who worked with Epps as director of pre-college programs at Philadelphia Futures. Low-income high-school students could put in the same effort as their better-resourced counterparts, but “even with the same effort, it simply doesn’t yield the same fruit. And then there’s limited access to the same opportunities, because they’re not receiving the same educational foundation that really opens those doors.”
 

Those disadvantages can also show up in test scores. A substantial body of research shows that SAT scores are strongly correlated with family income.
 

“How do you separate merit from privilege?” asked Jerome Lucido, a professor and executive director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice. “Merit needs to be tied to mission, not just who got a higher test score. We already know that has a direct correlation with family income.”

But the SAT and other tests are still crucial to how publications such as U.S. News & World Report and Barron’s formulate college rankings, which are widely regarded as measures of prestige.
 

Not surprisingly, colleges are constantly working to move up the lists. A prospective student flipping through Barron’s 1995 college-rankings guide would have found about 90 public institutions in the top three tiers of competitiveness and more than 170 in the less competitive or non-competitive tiers. In the 2013 guide, that top tier has grown by more than 40 colleges — about 46 percent — and the bottom tier has shrunk by 60.
 

“The whole system is constantly moving up, going upstream to get better and better students, and get students who can pay,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “It all looks great for the press release. But you’re systematically leaving people behind.”
 

Carnevale, who has authored many studies analyzing this shift, likens the state of higher education to “hospitals for healthy people,” competing for the easiest to treat, most lucrative patients, rather than taking on the cases of those who stand to benefit the most. “The question is, are you trying to reach down or not?”

Schools might argue they are — in a way.
 

Many state schools have in recent years struck what are called “articulation agreements” — partnerships with community colleges that make it easier for community-college students to transfer to a four-year school. In the last two years, Lincoln University has established such agreements with 11 community colleges.
 

But even with improved transfer pathways, there’s still an inherent risk for students like Epps who “undermatch,” or don’t attend the most selective school they can get into. Low-income, minority and first-generation students frequently undermatch, research shows, and in doing so, they often end up at institutions with less support and far lower graduation rates.
 

Without any aid from Lincoln or the other colleges that accepted her, Epps weighed her options and chose a different route. She recently completed her first year at the Community College of Philadelphia — a school where about half of full-time freshmen don’t return for a second year.
 

“In a way, four-year colleges are asking two-year colleges to do the dirty work of selecting who’s worthy of a four-year college,” the Pell Institute’s Tom Mortenson said. In doing so, four-year colleges are not “taking on the responsibility from the beginning when they’re freshmen and making a real commitment to these students.”
 

But colleges — even those with an explicit public mission — have mounting incentives to avoid students like Epps. Carnevale points to the dawning of what’s known as the “accountability movement” — an effort by states to reform higher education by tying funding for public colleges to student outcomes and graduation rates. Last month, President Barack Obama announced that the federal government would also be moving in a similar direction — and hopes to eventually tie federal aid to certain performance measures.
 

Unless policymakers build in some incentives to take on more students at the margins, the accountability movement could drive schools further away from low-income and minority populations, which have lower graduation rates overall, Carnevale said. “The whole logic of this industry — and the reform of it as well — excludes low-income and minority students.”
 

While colleges strive to enroll wealthier and better-performing students, the demographics of the nation’s high-school graduates are moving in a different direction: As a group, tomorrow’s high-school graduates will be more racially diverse and more low-income than today’s.
 

“There is a significant misalignment. And I think the misalignment’s going to continue to grow,” said David Tandberg, an assistant professor of higher education at Florida State University who previously worked in the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

“The public really, really benefits from a first-generation student going to college. All sorts of wonderful outcomes come from that,” Tandberg said.
 

A more educated workforce has widespread benefits: It leads to more earning power for those who graduate, a stronger tax base for the state, and greater potential for economic growth in the future.
 

Public universities have the task of “balancing institutional striving with the public’s needs,” Tandberg said, which “are often two very different things.”
 

Epps still remembers going out and buying a new button-down shirt, slacks and dress shoes the night before her high-school graduation. She remembers the nervousness she felt the next morning, and the tinge of sadness.
 

“I was going to miss my friends. We had been together for four years, and we were all going in different directions,” she said. “I didn’t know how life was going to turn out.”
 

At graduation, in her white cap and gown, she was the mistress of ceremonies, introducing each of the speakers and making sure the ceremony flowed. She read out the theme of the year’s graduation, a rephrasing of a Thoreau quote: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
 

She’s certainly trying. Community college started up again last week. Epps has already signed up for a full schedule of six classes.
 

A year from now, she hopes to transfer, finally, to a four-year state school and eventually to get a bachelor’s degree. She’s thinking she might want to study accounting.
 

Jonathan Lin contributed research to this article.

 

Courtesy: ProPublica.org

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