New Report: College Remains Unaffordable for Many Americans

Posted by Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) on April 3, 2017

Limited Means, Limited Options: College Remains Unaffordable for Many Americans

Our country was built in part on the idea that, with hard work and a good education, any American should be able to climb the ladder of social and economic mobility. But rising college costs and mounting student debt have fueled growing concerns among policymakers and the public about college affordability in the United States.

But do we really have a college affordability problem? If so, who does it affect most, and how can it be fixed?

Limited Means, Limited Options: College Remains Unaffordable for Many Americans asserts that the college affordability problem in America is not only real, but is largely a problem of inequity.

Based on a simple and reasonable definition of affordability that accounts for variation in household income and family size, IHEP’s first-of-its-kind analysis of net price data for over 2,000 colleges reveals that college affordability varies dramatically between students with different family incomes, enabling a wealthy student to attend essentially any college while effectively shutting out many of her peers.

The report urges federal, state, and institutional policymakers to tackle the affordability problem together and offers five recommendations:

  • Federal policymakers should protect and strengthen the Pell Grant.
  • States should strengthen direct investment in public colleges and need-based aid programs.
  • Colleges should manage institutional costs to concentrate expenditures on students.
  • Colleges with wealth at their disposal—either in the form of large endowments or company profits—should keep prices low for needy students.
  • Congress should pass legislation to improve consumer information and transparency, giving students the information they need to make affordable choices.

Our analysis confirms what many low- and moderate-income Americans already know—and what policymakers and institutional leaders need to understand—about how unaffordable college has become. What we need now is bold action and political bravery to spearhead these much-needed reforms. Students, our economy, and our nation can wait no longer.

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