Making College Affordable

Posted by Jack Kent Cooke Foundation on November 27, 2017


Providing Low-Income Students with the Knowledge and Resources Needed to Pay for College

College can seem out of reach for many low-income students. Too often they believe college is unaffordable and unattainable. It is no surprise then that students from the bottom socioeconomic quartile are eight times less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than students from the top socioeconomic quartile (7.4% versus 60%).1

Even our nation’s brightest low-income students, who have done very well in high school and score highly on standardized tests, are less likely to obtain a college degree than their higher-income peers, a discrepancy known as the “excellence gap.”2

Several factors hinder students’ access and success. Low-income students may lack understanding of how financial
aid works, or perceive they are unable to meet the full costs of higher education. Low-income students are more likely to suffer from “sticker shock” on seeing the ostensible price of a college education, to attend colleges closer to home to save money, and to pursue choices that allow them to work while in school. While state and federal funding can help to offset college costs, low-income students often are unaware that institutional aid can significantly lower costs and in some cases make college absolutely free. They do not understand the value of institutional aid, work/study policies, and loan forgiveness policies. They may not know how to apply for institutional aid required at some institutions, such as the completion of the College Board’s College Scholarship Service PROFILE and the Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC). Institutional aid could potentially play a much more important role in increasing access and persistence among low-income students, if these gaps in knowledge were removed. Colleges and universities have a role to play in educating low-income students about how to pay for college.

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