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Experts Want to Tackle College Affordability by First Defining “Affordable,” Which Is Harder than It Sounds

Everyone knows it takes a lot to pay for college. But exactly how much?

The lowest-earning families must spend about 60 percent of their family income to afford a four-year public college, and the average family about 17 percent, according to the National Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis.

That’s too much, most people agree. In response, most of the politicians running for president have proposed plans to help make college more affordable.

But how do we measure affordability? An affordable amount for a family with one child and an annual income of $75,000 is not the same as for a family of the same income with five kids and two mortgages. And some colleges say they meet 100 percent of students’ demonstrated need, but their graduates depart with significant debt.