April 27, 2016

Diagnosis: College costs pushed beyond families’ ability to pay

Policy choices by political and institutional leaders have made college less affordable in all 50 states, with real consequences for American families. A study published by the Institute for Research on Higher Education at Penn GSE ranks all 50 states on college affordability, and gives a sobering view of the difficulty many low- and middle-income families have paying for college even after financial aid is taken into account.

College Affordability Diagnosis provides a new understanding of college expenses in relation to family income, and how those expenses have dramatically changed in a short period of time. The study — by Penn GSE’s Joni Finney, William Doyle, associate professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, Patrick Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), and HEPI senior policy analyst Darcie Harvey — shows the potentially devastating effects on America’s economy and social fabric if states and colleges fail to make meaningful changes. 

Speaking with the Hechinger Report, Finney noted: 

"This has been happening slowly, over time, since the early 1990s. When the state abdicates responsibility for public policies related to affordability, it disproportionately hurts low- and middle-income families."

The study includes affordability diagnoses for all 50 states; a map of college affordability by census tract and legislative district; a look at how student aid has dramatically changed in the last 20 years; a snapshot of student borrowing; and recommendations for policymakers.