Office of Planning and Budgeting

More on College Affordability

The Institute for Higher Education Policy recently published a brief addressing the complexity and confusion surrounding the issue of college affordability. Written by Sandy Baum and Saul Schwartz, Is College Affordable? In Seach of a Meaningful Definition succinctly addresses several familiar issues:

  • The conflation of increased or high prices with low affordability (where the former is dealt with by all, the latter is dependent on a family’s resources).
  • Misperceptions about cost/affordability created by the hard to discern difference between sticker prices and net prices for any given family.
  • Difficulties shifting from perceiving public higher education as a service heavily subsidized for all to a service that parents and students are primarily reponsible for funding.
  • Lack of framing affordability of higher educaiton within the context of a long-term investment that you pay for over time with an expectation that the long-term return warrants the cost.

The authors provide some general policy recommendations, including simplifying financial aid and pricing processes, communicating more clearly the monetary and non-monetary payoffs associated with higher education,  strengthening protections in cases where higher education does not pay off for some students, and increasing investment in public subsidies aimed at lowering the price for low-income students.

This brief is a quick and valuable read. For more information, check out coverage of the brief at Inside Higher Ed as well.

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