"The more poor, the more financial aid is available".
Why isn't everyone able to go to an ivy league school then? Your statement implies that by being poor, you get lots of free money, which is basically saying there's nothing below the middle class. I think _that_ is not how it works.
Also, what if you don't want just "the new replacement for a high school degree"? My point exactly: why should you have to shoot for a lower degree because you're poor?
Hga is right about the vast sums of financial aid being given to those with low family income by top schools. Everyone isn't going to an Ivy league school because (1) clearly there aren't enough spaces, and (2) everyone isn't admitted. We could discuss the structural features that contribute to 1 and 2 (mostly 2). But where I think we should be able to find agreement is that those who are admitted are cared for quite well. You might be surprised at how many of them did indeed qualify for, and receive, need-based aid.
I don't doubt a lot of money goes into allowing some people into ivy league schools. But why should that counterbalance the fact that if you're born poor then chances are you won't go to college, especially a good one?
In the end, some especially gifted, smart or hard-working kids will make it, sure. But they'll be competing for the same financial aid. Why should those have to work any harder than the rest?
They're competing for the same financial aid, which is based on need. Admissions aren't tied to need, but aid is. Therefore, if you ignore the structural forces making it difficult for poor people in general, they get a big bonus:
(1) Ability to pay is ignored during admissions...
(2) ... but ability to pay totally determines what you'll be asked to pay.
For those who get admitted and are poor, it's an extraordinarily good deal. I'm still not seeing where (or if) we're disagreeing.
It's true that college admissions in the USA are extremely generous, but this is only to make up for the wild variations in the quality of primary and secondary education. Depending on your choice of parents (and where they live), you could be doing AP calculus with your own laptop, or not be able to read your high school diploma.
In many European countries, there is an aggressive policy of equalizing all education opportunity, from kindergarten to the Ph.D. level.