Magazine article Academe

Higher Education Less Affordable

Magazine article Academe

Higher Education Less Affordable

Article excerpt

American higher education is becoming less affordable, according to a report released in May by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which reached this conclusion by comparing college costs to family income. In Losing Ground: A National Status Report on the Affordability of American Higher Education, the center says that most families today must spend a larger portion of their income on higher education compared with families two decades ago, and that this trend is strongest among the lowest-income families. For example, tuition at public two-year institutions represented 6 percent of family income for the lowest-earning families in 1980, but represented 12 percent of income for such families in 2000. For four-year public institutions, the percentage jumped from 13 percent to 25 percent for the same group over the same period.

The report identifies other national trends that threaten access to higher education. First, federal and state financial aid to students has not kept pace with tuition increases. For example, the average grant from the nation's largest federal grant program, the Pell Grant program, covered 98 percent of tuition at public four-year institutions in 1986, but covered only 57 percent in 1999. At the same time, many states and institutions are shifting resources from need-based aid programs to merit-based programs, which do not necessarily help the most financially needy students. In addition, a growing percentage of students and families are borrowing more money to pay for college. …

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