At a time college-bound students are uncertain of their future because of the coronavirus pandemic comes word that “rich students” receive more financial aid than “poor ones.”

According to a story published in the Detroit Free Press a few weeks ago, colleges are increasingly spending more to woo affluent students with scholarships based on academics or other achievements. And it’s leaving those who need aid the most with fewer resources to afford college.

Students with the highest 25% range received a greater amount of non-federal financial aid ($11,000) on average, compared with all other income levels, including those in the lowest 25% income range ($7,500), according to a 2019 report on non-federal aid by the National Center for Education Statistics.

According to the Free Press story, affluent students get more school aid compared with students with financial need because colleges are actively pursuing them, experts say. Schools are offering non-need-based merit aid to attract students with wealth, especially if they’re high-performing.

It’s a race for prestige, says Martin Van Der Werf, associate director of editorial and post-secondary policy at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the Free Press story continued.

“Better-prepared students, higher graduation rates and a better chance of attracting students who will later give back to the college — that’s the reward system that’s in place,” says Der Werf. He noted there’s no similar reward system for helping low-income students.

Colleges tend to choose students who will boost their rankings, and rich students often have characteristics that fit the bill. Rankings are always partially-based on performance metrics: U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, for example, take into account academic success and high SAT scores.Wealthier students tend to perform better on SAT, according to an assessment of SAT results by the Brookings Institution.

Another factor in rankings is college completion — national data show that students from low-income schools are slightly less likely to graduate compared with students at high-income schools.

There’s only so much money to go around when it comes to college’s financial aid budget, and schools must make choices about how the money is spent, the Free Press story noted.

As we see it, the bottom line to all of this is that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. And that’s not good for students who need financial aid the most.

We are suspicious that the COVID-19 pandemic will tilt the fairness scale even more by favoring students from wealthy families.