It's Affordability, at Last!
The college affordability crisis in U.S. higher education is now so severe that all recent national reports highlight it. In September along these reports were released:
- Measuring Up 2006 from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gave 43 states F grades on college affordability. The previous report in 2004 gave 36 states F grades. The 2002 report gave 13 states F grades. The original 2000 report gave 3 states F grades on college affordability.
- Mortgaging Our Future: How Financial Barriers to College Undercut America’s Global Competitiveness from the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance highlight “how financial barriers created by rising college prices and insufficient need-based grant aid lower bachelor’s degree attainment.” Using very conservative estimates that during the 1990s between 1.0 and 1.6 million college-qualified students from low- and moderate-income families did not earn bachelor’s degrees that should have. In the current decade this estimate rises to 1.4 to 2.4 million.
- A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education from the commission appointed by Secretary of Education Spellings addresses access, affordability, quality and accountability. “The commission notes with concern the seemingly inexorable increase in college costs, which have outpaced inflation for the past two decades and made affordability an ever growing worry for students, families and policymakers. Too many students are either discouraged from attending college by rising costs, or take on worrisome debt burdens in order to do so.” The Spellings Commission also “found that our financial aid system is confusing, complex, inefficient, duplicative, and frequently does not direct aid to students who truly need it.” The Commission noted that its proposed changes “would require a significant increase in need-based financial aid …”
In January 2006 we reported in OPPORTUNITY that during the 2003-04 academic year undergraduate students faced $31.8 billion—yes billion—in unmet financial need. This is a situation that has been deteriorating since 1980. But maybe, at last, this crescendo of the voices of major policy players will be heard by our federal, state and institutional policy makers. Unfortunately, we have not heard those running for election in November say much about the crisis.