Public Higher Education’s Declining Affordability for Low-Income Students

Posted by National College Access Network on August 20, 2019

There is, and has been, a tension in higher education between the public’s understanding of the benefits (financial and otherwise) of post-secondary attainment and their lack of ability to afford it. Headlines and news reports often focus on the high cost of tuition and large amounts of aggregate student debt, which add to students’ concerns about paying for higher education.

A new National College Access Network analysis shows that students are right to be concerned: Affordability is decreasing at two- and four-year public institutions, whose mission is to provide a post-secondary pathway to benefit individuals and the public at large. In 2016-17, just 48% of community colleges in our sample were affordable for the average Pell Grant recipient, according to NCAN’s affordability formula. Only 27% of four-year public institutions were affordable.

From academic years 2012-13 to 2016-17, the percentage of affordable institutions declined nationally, while affordability gaps rose.

In “The Growing Gap: Public Higher Education’s Declining Affordability for Low-Income Students,” NCAN proposes that a given two- or four-year public institution’s total cost of attendance for an in-state student plus $300 for emergency expenses should not exceed the combined total of: 1) that institution’s average federal, state, and institutional grant awards, 2) average federal loan disbursement, 3) the expected family contribution of the average Pell Grant recipient, 4) an average Federal Work-Study award, 5) and the contribution of summer wages.

Learn more and download the report:

Accompanying the report is an interactive dashboard that allows you to explore all the affordability data at the national, state, and institutional levels. How many institutions in your state are affordable for the average Pell Grant recipient?!/vizhome/TheGrowingGapPublicHigherEducationsDecliningAffordabilityforLow-IncomeStudents/Dashboard

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