College Affordability

Overview

College Affordability

America’s higher-education system passed a milestone a few years ago that university officials would probably prefer no one noticed: Annual tuition plus room and board at some private institutions overtook the median household income. Going to a selective college, for the first time, cost more than the average family earns in a year.

America’s higher-education system passed a milestone a few years ago that university officials would probably prefer no one noticed: Annual tuition plus room and board at some private institutions overtook the median household income. Going to a selective college, for the first time, cost more than the average family earns in a year.

Of course, tuition varies widely, but—in general—the price has jumped three times faster than the rate of inflation in the past 25 years, outpacing even the spiraling cost of health care. Increases in costs have only accelerated since 2008, when the economic downturn caused huge endowment losses at private universities and state budget cuts at public ones.

This increase has not escaped the attention of most Americans. Most think higher education is not only too expensive, but 61 percent also believe it’s only a fair or poor return on their investment, according to a survey by Northeastern University. Nine out of 10 say cost is now a major barrier to obtaining a degree. In an annual survey of freshmen nationwide in 2011 by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, a record 42 percent said cost was “very important” in their decision about where to enroll. Record numbers also said financial aid was so essential that not being offered such help caused them to turn down the top schools on their lists.

Students and their families are beginning to vote with their feet, and their choices are starting to affect how colleges and universities do business. A few middle- and lower-tier private institutions, as well as some state universities and colleges, are being forced to freeze or reduce their tuition, and new low-cost or even free models of delivering a higher education are threatening to end their long-held monopoly on degrees required by employers. This Topics section examines the causes and consequences of college affordability through the most recent research, articles and other resources.

How—and what—students pay

Few students pay the published, or “sticker,” price for college. Most get discounts based on financial need or academic merit through institutional or government financial aid, about two-thirds of it in the form of loans. What’s left for students to pay after that assistance is called the “net price.” Although universities would seem likely to benefit from people knowing their net prices, which are always lower than their sticker prices, the schools are generally reluctant to disclose these figures, fearing that all students will demand to pay only the lowest available tuition or that consumers will judge less-expensive colleges as being of lower quality.

Collectively, in 2011-12 U.S. universities and colleges provided around $42 billion a year in grant aid to their students, meaning scholarships and other types of financial assistance that do not need to be repaid. The federal government supplied about another $34 billion in Pell Grants, which are given based on need and also do not have to be repaid. As of the 2012-13 academic year, the maximum annual Pell Grant any student can receive is $5,550, depending on financial need, educational costs, and whether he or she attends school full- or part-time.

Veterans who served in the military on or since September 11, 2001, also are eligible for higher-education benefits under the new GI Bill. Some 773,000 veterans have so far used $20 billion worth of those benefits.

The government makes another $107 billion a year available to students in the form of loans. During the battle over health care, Congress ended the longstanding practice of giving billions in subsidies to banks to provide those loans, which are now made directly through university financial-aid offices. That reform is projected to save the government $52 billion over 10 years, money slated to be channeled back into the Pell Grant program. Those loans offer relatively low interest rates and other favorable terms.

Private lenders also still make loans to students. While some borrowers with excellent credit can get private college loans at interest rates of as little as 6 percent, these loans generally have variable interest that is usually higher and often require parents or others to co-sign.

About two-thirds of students borrow to pay for college, and the Project on Student Debt reports that, in 2012, they graduated owing an average of $26,600. In all, some 38 million borrowers are shouldering $948 billion—just short of $1 trillion—in government-backed student loans, and that figure is increasing. More than 9 percent of these borrowers default within two years and 13.4 percent within three, the U.S. Department of Education reports.

Some of this debt is driven by borrowers’ confusion about the complicated student-loan system. One of the biggest mistakes students make is borrowing from private lenders when they’re still eligible for cheaper federal direct loans. More than one dollar in five of student loans comes from private sources, even though at least half of undergraduates who take out private loans could take out federal direct loans, according to The Institute for College Access and Success.

Merit Aid

One of the more surprising things about who pays what to go to college is that, in spite of their claims of being increasingly short of money, U.S. universities—including taxpayer-supported public ones—give about $5.3 billion a year in aid to students who do not meet the government’s definition of financial need, according to the College Board.

One reason universities give money to families regardless of their level of need is to attract applicants with high grade-point averages and SAT scores—who often come from affluent communities—to help boost the institutions’ overall reputations and standings in college rankings. Another is that universities use these inducements to get wealthier families to enroll, because they help subsidize lower-income students in the long-term. A third is to compete with well-endowed elite universities such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford that can afford to give grants to families with income as high as $200,000.

Another nearly $4 billion a year goes to families with annual incomes of from $100,000 to $180,000 in the form of tuition tax breaks of up to $2,500 under the federal American Opportunity Tax Credit. Families earning more than $100,000 a year are now getting more than a quarter of the total of those tax breaks, which ostensibly are meant to help low-income students. The share of this form of financial aid going to low-income students has fallen steadily over the past 10 years, government statistics show.

The system of subsidies that underpins university costs is more convoluted than the fares charged by airlines for different seats on the same flight. Rich students subsidize poor students, for example, because some of the tuition they pay goes to classmates who can’t cover the full cost. At least 15 states have policies that require this, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) says. In Arizona, for example, the universities channel about a quarter of tuition revenue from students who can pay into discounts, grants and other forms of financial aid for students who can’t. Critics say this practice penalizes not only full-tuition-paying, high-income parents, but also middle-class families already squeezed by escalating costs. In mid-2012, the Iowa Board of Regents ordered the practice of full-tuition-paying students subsidizing lower-income classmates to end in that state within five years.

Out-of-state students at public universities also are increasingly subsidizing in-state students, because out-of-state tuition is almost always higher than in-state. Because of this, public universities aggressively recruit out-of-state students. International students also subsidize domestic ones. Eighty-one percent of international students pay the full tuition, a much higher proportion than students generally, bringing in around $20 billion a year in tuition and living expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Institute for International Education.

Undergraduates in low-cost disciplines such as the humanities and social sciences also help to pay for students in subjects that cost more to teach, including fine arts, agriculture, law and engineering, the Delta Cost Project on Postsecondary Education reports, because they, too, all pay identical tuition.

Income-Based Repayment

To provide cushioning for student borrowers whose federal students loans consumed much of their incomes, Congress in 2007 passed a law called Income Based Repayment, which starting in 2009 allowed borrowers to pay their lenders based on a formula that took into account how much they actually earned. Since 2009, two more versions of IBR have been introduced, with one recently rolled out (Pay As You Earn) and the other slated to debut in July of 2014. 

While the three versions have slight differences, they are similar in function. The programs take into account the size of the borrower’s family, federal loan balance and income. Lenders use a sliding scale to determine both eligibility and the new amount the borrower repays monthly. Undergraduate and graduate school Stafford loans, as well as Grad PLUS loans for graduate students, can be rolled into IBR. Payments are capped to either 10 or 15 (2007 version) percent of the borrower’s discretionary income—defined by the federal government as the money left over after basic living expenses are met—and any remaining balance, including the amount that accrued from interest, is pardoned after 20 or 25 (2007 version) years, depending on the type of IBR program and employment the borrower maintains. Borrowers who are employed at a non-profit or government agency can have their debt pardoned through IBR after 10 years. (An executive order from president Obama will rework the 2007 IBR program to hew more closely to the later versions; the changes will take effect in late 2015.)

But the program has been slow to enlist users. Despite the relief it can offer to borrowers with modest incomes, only 1.3 million people have signed up for the 2007 version of IBR as of January of 2014. For analysts, that number is surprising because many more borrowers are eligible.

While IBR is popular among student advocates, some reports argue that graduate universities can use a legal loophole that effectively overcharges students by encouraging them to take out loans and then sign up for IBR, with taxpayers footing the bill. Though undergraduate Stafford loans are capped at $31,000 for dependent students, there’s no limit on Grad PLUS loans—however students won’t receive more than they need for tuition, room and board, and other education expenses. But universities are generally free in determining their own prices. 

There are other issues with IBR. Current law states pardoned debt is still taxable, which may push the borrower into a higher tax bracket if his remaining balance is large. Nor is IBR necessarily the most financially prudent recourse for every borrower. Even though the program reduces the monthly payment on qualified loans, interest that builds can still increase the balance of the loans. If over time a borrower’s income exceeds the level necessary to remain in IBR, he might face a larger balance because his repayment plan will kick back to the original term of the loan. Most student loans have a set repayment plan elapsing 10 years, though they can be adjusted to lower the monthly balance. And IBR’s feature of pardoning student debt creates perverse incentives, argue some scholars, that cost taxpayers money which could be spent elsewhere. 

In August of 2013 a White House fact sheet noted that roughly two-thirds of borrowers who take part in repayment plans based on income earn less than $60,000 a year. Altogether, some 2 million of the 37 million borrowers who eligible for such plans are currently enrolled in them. 

New developments in college costs

The vast amount of money spent by the federal government would seem to give it leverage over college costs. But there has been only slight movement in the direction of regulating tuition. The Obama administration controversially proposed, for example, that universities that increase their net prices at the fastest rates would forfeit their eligibility for some federal financial-aid money, but that idea has many caveats and little momentum. Universities have fiercely resisted tuition regulation, which they characterize as a form of price control.

Americans already appear to be increasingly making college-going decisions based on price. More than 40 percent of private colleges reported enrollment declines in the 2011-12 academic year, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Experts attribute this to rising costs: More than half of private colleges had to give more discounts in 2012 than in the year before to continue to attract students, the credit-rating firm Moody’s reported.

These difficulties, combined with the decline in the number of high-school graduates after a peak in 2009, is forcing some colleges and universities to freeze or cut tuition. Politicians, too, are getting the message. The governors of Florida, Texas and Wisconsin have called on universities in their states to figure out a way to offer $10,000 degrees.

A few universities are also starting to charge different prices for different majors to better reflect their actual cost. At least 143 public universities now levy so-called differential tuition that varies by major and, in some cases, by year of enrollment, the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute found. The University of Maine, for instance, adds a $75 fee for engineering courses, and the University of Kentucky $460 per semester for nursing students.

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In her opening statement before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, DeVos said:

Report

Fewer Borrowers Are Repaying Their Loans Than Previously Thought
New America

Today, the US Department of Education announced a critical error in the way it had previously been calculating repayment rates across the more than 4,150 institutions that receive federal loans each year. A coding error meant that many borrowers were incorrectly considered to be paying down their loans when in fact they were not making principal payments. As a result, many schools’ repayment rates are on average a third lower than originally reported.

Report

Fewer Borrowers Are Repaying Their Loans Than Previously Thought
New America

Today, the US Department of Education announced a critical error in the way it had previously been calculating repayment rates across the more than 4,150 institutions that receive federal loans each year. A coding error meant that many borrowers were incorrectly considered to be paying down their loans when in fact they were not making principal payments. As a result, many schools’ repayment rates are on average a third lower than originally reported.

Report

Fewer Borrowers Are Repaying Their Loans Than Previously Thought
New America

Today, the US Department of Education announced a critical error in the way it had previously been calculating repayment rates across the more than 4,150 institutions that receive federal loans each year. A coding error meant that many borrowers were incorrectly considered to be paying down their loans when in fact they were not making principal payments. As a result, many schools’ repayment rates are on average a third lower than originally reported.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Who Benefits from New York’s Free College Plan?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to make tuition free year at New York’s public colleges and universities for students from families earning less than $125,000 is being touted as a shot across the progressive bow. As the new Congress and White House tout a conservative agenda, the governor is offering a playbook that states could use to capitalize on the liberal currents that crisscrossed the Democratic presidential primaries.

EWA Radio

2017: Big Education Stories to Watch
EWA Radio: Episode 104

Kate Zernike, The New York Times’ national education reporter, discusses what’s ahead on the beat in 2017. How will President-elect Donald Trump translate his slim set of campaign promises on education into a larger and more detailed agenda? What do we know about the direction Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, will seek to take federal policy if she’s confirmed? Zernike also offers story ideas and suggestions for local and regional education reporters to consider in the new year. 

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Georgia Judge: DACA Students Can Pay In-State Tuition Rate

Undocumented immigrants in Georgia who came to the U.S. as children and have received temporary protection from deportation under the Obama administration will now be able to pay in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities, a judge ruled in the years-long court case Tuesday.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

What’s Next for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics?
A Q&A With Outgoing Executive Director Alejandra Ceja

Alejandra Ceja has been the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics since 2013 — a position she’ll give up at noon on Jan. 19, the day before the presidential inauguration. I recently sat down with her at the U.S. Department of Education to talk about the state of Latino education, the Initiative’s first 25 years, and what we can expect from the Initiative under the next administration. 

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length. 

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Public Universities Have ‘Really Lost Our Focus’
Q&A with Christopher Newfield

Since the 1970s, a “doom loop” has pervaded higher education, writes Christopher Newfield in his new book The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them. Newfield, a professor of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, calls this loop “privatization” – the hidden and overt ways that “business practices restructure teaching and research.”

EWA Radio

Why A Trump Presidency Has Higher Ed on Edge
EWA Radio: Episode 98

Benjamin Wermund of Politico discusses the uncertainties ahead for the nation’s colleges and universities following the presidential election. While Donald Trump has offered few specifics on education policy, his surrogates suggest he will reverse course on many initiatives put in place under President Obama. That could have a significant impact on areas like Title IX enforcement, federal funding for research, and more. Higher education leaders are also facing a surge in reports of hate crimes and harassment on campuses that were already struggling with issues of free speech and diversity.

EWA Radio

Trump Is Elected: What’s Next for Education Policy?
EWA Radio: Episode 97

Donald Trump spent little time on education issues during his campaign, but his victory is sure to have big implications. Journalists Alyson Klein of Education Week and Andrew Kreighbaum of Inside Higher Ed discuss the likely impact on P-12 and higher education. What will be President-elect Trump’s education priorities, and how will the GOP-controlled Congress respond? Will Trump follow through on his campaign pledge to provide $20 billion for school choice? What will be the fate of existing federal policy like the new Every Student Succeeds Act? And how will Trump approach the hot-button higher education issues like student loan debt and accountability?  

Seminar

Doing More With Higher Ed Data: From Policy to Newsrooms
Philadelphia • February 2–3, 2017

With colleges and universities under increased pressure to ensure that more students earn degrees without amassing mountains of debt, journalists are at the forefront in examining how these institutions  measure up. But there’s one major obstacle that both colleges and reporters share when it comes to making sense of how well these schools are meeting their goals: insufficient data.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

A Push for More Latino College Graduates in Texas, but Not by ‘Business as Usual’

Latino children will “pretty much determine the fate of Texas” during the 21st century, the state’s Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said in his annual address this week.

That’s why the state will need to get more creative in educating Latinos and ensuring they graduate from college. “Doing business as usual,” won’t work, he said, according to the Austin American-Statesman

Report

Black-White Disparity in Student Loan Debt More Than Triples After Graduation
Brookings Institution

The moment they earn their bachelor’s degrees, black college graduates owe $7,400 more on average than their white peers ($23,400 versus $16,000, including non-borrowers in the averages). But over the next few years, the black-white debt gap more than triples to a whopping $25,000. Differences in interest accrual and graduate school borrowing lead to black graduates holding nearly $53,000 in student loan debt four years after graduation—almost twice as much as their white counterparts.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

College Completion Failures Must Be Tackled in Tandem With Costs, Report Says

By Shenandoah University Office of Marketing and Communications (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Two numbers haunt the college landscape: $1.3 trillion and 40 percent.

The first is the ever-increasing debt Americans are shouldering to pay off the cost of a degree. But a growing chorus of experts believes that extraordinary sum obscures another crisis: For many, those debts wouldn’t be as devastating had they earned a degree. But only 40 percent of Americans complete a bachelor’s degree in four years.

The upshot is that millions of Americans earning meager wages are on the hook for thousands of dollars with almost nothing to show for it.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Understanding the Student Loan-Debt Picture

By Dwight Burdette, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“There’s a lot of talk about the student debt crisis and I’m going to tell you that I don’t think there really is a student debt crisis,” said Debbie Cochrane, vice president at The Institute for College Access and Success. “What there are are multiple student debt crises.”

Webinar

Know the Score: Finding Stories in College Scorecard Data

Know the Score: Finding Stories in College Scorecard Data

How many first-generation students does a college have? How much does the school charge students from families earning $30,000 versus more than $75,000? And how many students are repaying their student loan debt three years after college?

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Analyzing College Endowments: Do’s and Don’ts

Analyzing College Endowments: Do’s and Don’ts

You’d be forgiven for thinking higher-education reporting is a game of billion-dollar bingo, with each aspect of the beat pegged to insane sums, such as the $1.3 trillion in student loan debt.

One way of answering whether students are getting a fair shake is to see if the colleges that educate them are spending the institution’s resources in ways that enable more college-goers to afford the cost of a postsecondary degree. 

Multimedia

Higher Ed in the Election
The U.S. Elections & Education: Part 1

Higher Ed in the Election

During the Democratic presidential primaries, the debate was over whether to make public colleges tuition-free or debt-free for students. Now that Democrat Hillary Clinton has picked up the tuition-free banner, how might her proposal affect higher education? Meanwhile, Republican nominee Donald Trump has suggested he might change the federal government’s role in lending to students altogether. Experts address what the candidates’ ideas could mean for colleges and students.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Ensuring College Readiness and Success for Latino Students

From left, Fermin Leal of EdSource, Juan Garcia of ACT, Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj of Seton Hall University, Carmen Macias of the University of Southern California, Victor Zamora of KIPP Colorado Schools participate in a panel discussion about Latino students and college readiness at EWA's third annual Spanish-language media convning. Source: Twitter/ @leslieenriquez

The number of Hispanics taking the ACT exam jumped 50 percent from 2011 to 2015. But only 15 percent of those test takers are scoring well enough to be deemed college-ready in all four subjects, compared to 28 percent of other students.

These figures starkly reflect “the gap between the level of aspiration and the level of readiness” required to thrive in college, said Juan Garcia, senior director of the ACT’s Office for the Advancement of Underserved Learners.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Study: Rich College Students Don’t Receive More State Money Than Poor Students

Image of UCLA, a high-performing public university with 39 percent of its students receiving Pell grants in 2013-14. Flickr/Prayitno (CC BY 2.0)

Do more public dollars flow to higher-income students attending public universities? 

Some critics of the current public higher education model say that because wealthier students are more likely to attend top-tier public universities, which are better funded than other public institutions, these well-off students essentially receive a generous taxpayer-funded subsidy. Such critics also point to the fact that lower-income students tend to enroll at less-selective colleges that receive far less state support.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Calif. Community College System Gets First Latino Boss

Eloy Ortiz Oakley was named the California Community Colleges' first Latino chancellor this week. Source: Twitter @EloyOakley

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors voted unanimously this week to appoint Eloy Ortiz Oakley as the system’s next chancellor. This decision marks the first time a Latino has been at the helm of the 113-college system, where Hispanic students make up 42 percent of the student population and represented nearly half of all new students last fall.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

The Republican Plan For Higher Education: Less Red Tape And Less Money

By Bjoertvedt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Past is prologue.

That’s what Republicans promise in the higher education platform they’ll finalize at their national convention in Cleveland: an approach that follows the direction they’ve already taken in Congress.

Fewer regulations for colleges and universities. Less red tape for students.

Less money.

“Obviously what we do legislatively is a statement of our philosophy and our principles,” said Virginia Foxx, Republican chair of the House subcommittee that oversees higher education and co-chair of the GOP platform committee.

Multimedia

Hunger on Campus
Video Resources from the 69th EWA National Seminar

Hunger on Campus

Even as college enrollment among low-income students has risen, so too have college costs, leaving many students without the means to buy their next meals. From food pantries to food stamps, this session explores what colleges are doing to help the growing number of students facing “food insecurity.”

EWA Radio

No Exit From New Jersey’s Student Loans
EWA Radio: Episode 80

Flickr/klang2010

Annie Waldman of ProPublica digs deep into New Jersey’s college financial aid program, which critics have called “state-sanctioned loan sharking”. In a particularly egregious case in which the state demanded a mother continue to pay off her son’s college loan even after he was murdered.

Waldman talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about why New Jersey wields more power than other state-based financial aid programs, how difficult it would be to make the policies and practices more forgiving, and ideas for local reporters writing about college affordability and student debt.

Seminar

The U.S. Elections & Education: Part 1
Washington, D.C. • August 30, 2016

Now that the White House race has narrowed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, how is education playing out as an issue in the campaign? Will it prove an important fault line between the Democratic and Republican candidates? Will Trump offer any details to contrast with Clinton’s extensive set of proposals from early childhood to higher education? What are the potential implications for schools and colleges depending on who wins the White House? Also, what other races this fall should be on the radar of journalists, whether elections for Congress, state legislatures, or governor?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Teachers’ Union Applauds Clinton Address, Except on Charters

Hillary Clinton shares her views and agenda for education in a July 5 speech to delegates for the National Education Association.Photo credit: @KristenRec

Hillary Clinton vowed to be a partner with educators if she wins the White House, during a speech today to the nation’s largest teachers’ union. Clinton drew enthusiastic applause from National Education Association members for most of the address, including her calls to make preschool universally available, boost teacher pay, and ease the burden of paying for higher education.

But the presumptive Democratic nominee got a far more muted response, and even some jeers, when she made a positive plug — albeit very briefly — for charter schools.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

A Look at the Student Loan Interest Rates for Fall

Pixabay/0TheFool

College students this fall likely will save some money on their federal student loans because of declining interest rates.

Starting July 1, the loans that millions of students rely on to finance their higher education hopes will drop by about half of a percentage point. The new rates, calculated by the advocacy group The Institute for College Access & Success, are:

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Higher Education and the 2016 Presidential Election

Flickr/Michael Vadon (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The first total solar eclipse to sweep across the entire continental United States in 38 years will occur on August 21, 2017. Don’t expect reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) anytime before then.

The HEA expired at the end of 2013 and it’s likely nothing will happen with it in an election year or soon thereafter, agreed a panel of journalists discussing key higher education issues and the 2016 presidential election, at the Education Writers Association National Seminar in Boston in May.

Report

FAFSA Non-Filers: What the Research Says
National College Access Network (NCAN)

Whereas non-filers used to cite their parents’ ability to pay, more recently, students have said they didn’t think they qualified for the aid. Despite standing to benefit the most, a full 44 percent of non-filers were first-year community college students, compared with 26 percent of students at four-year public colleges and 18 percent of those at private colleges. Community college students were also more likely to file late (54 percent did so) than four-year students were ( just under a quarter of those at public colleges and 17 percent at privates were tardy).

Report

Gainfully Employed? Assessing the Employment and Earnings of For-Profit College Students Using Administrative Data
National Bureau of Economic Research

We draw on population-level administrative data from the U.S. Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service to quantify the impact of for-profit college attendance on the employment and earnings of over 1.4 million students. We characterize both the within-student earnings effects and joint distributions of earnings effects and increases in student debt.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

States Have Cut Money For Higher Education 17 Percent Since The Recession, Report Finds

Source: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)

This post was updated. 

In spite of a gradual economic recovery and improving revenues, most states are spending dramatically less on public higher education, a new report says.

States are collectively investing 17 percent less in their public colleges and universities, or $1,525 less per student, since 2007, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which used inflation-adjusted figures.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Higher Ed: Hunger on Campus

Flickr/Salvation Army USA West (CC BY 2.0)

The stereotypes of the financially struggling college students are well-known. They live on ramen, share an apartment or house with several roommates, and work part-time for money to buy beer. They get summer jobs to cover college tuition and expenses. And they come from middle- and upper-class families, so if they do struggle sometimes to pay the bills, that scarcity is hip and cool.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Financial Aid ‘Arms War’ Continues to Drain Cash From Colleges

Source: NACUBO

The nation’s private colleges are distributing more dollars to attract students at a speed that threatens to unravel their fiscal health, new figures suggest.

Eighty-eight percent of first-time, full-time freshmen received tuition discounts this year and last, according to a survey of 401 private, nonprofit colleges released today by the National Association of College and University Business Officers. The average grant awarded in this academic year covered about 56 percent of tuition and fees.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

State-by-State Rankings of College Affordability

Atomic Taco/Flickr (Highline Community College)

An affordable college education. Politicians and bus stop ads promise it, students and parents dream of it. But can anyone define it?

Authors of one data-rich report tried their best to bring this vague yet crucial concept into focus by answering a simple question: What percent of your income would you need to pay to go to college in each state?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Progressives in Massachusetts Shortchange Poor Kids, Governor Says

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at EWA's National Seminar in Boston. (Photo by Katherine Taylor for EWA)

Massachusetts has long been the poster child for education.

For years now it’s ranked at the top in the country for math and reading achievement, boasted impressive graduation rates and made a significant financial investments over the last few decades to get there.

It’s no slouch when it comes to higher education either. Massachusetts harbors some of the best colleges and universities in the world, and it’s joining a growing number of states looking to make college more affordable.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Obama Official: To Lower Cost of College, States Must Spend More

U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell spoke at EWA's 69th annual National Seminar in Boston. Source: U.S. Department of Education

“The most expensive degree is the one you don’t get.” That’s Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell quoting former U.S. Ed Secretary Arne Duncan at the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar on Monday. Mitchell’s talk focused on how to prevent such a costly slip.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Former Chancellors of Research Universities Warn Their Future Is in Peril
New Report Urges Dramatic Changes to Save a System That’s “Breaking Down”

Flickr/Sharada Prasad CS (CC BY 2.0)

The system for funding American flagship public universities is “gradually breaking down,” said Robert J. Birgeneau, a former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, and the co-chair of a two-year project to examine the role of public research universities and recommend changes to help them stay competitive.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

‘Lives in Limbo’: Supporting Undocumented Students

Yehimi Cambron, middle, shares her immigration story at the Center for American Progress event, "Harnessing the Talent of DACA and Unauthorized Students at the K-12 Level." She was joined by, from left, Richard Loeschner of Brentwood High School in New York, Frances Esparza of Boston Public Schools, Roberto Gonzales of Harvard University, and moderator Scott Sargrad of CAP. Photo by Natalie Gross/ EWA

When Yehimi Cambron crossed the U.S. border from Mexico with her parents, they told her she would not have documented legal status in this country. But as a third-grader, she had no concept of how that would affect her.

It wasn’t until she was 15 and denied a $50 prize in an art competition because she didn’t have a Social Security number that she grasped its meaning.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

How Colleges Can Help Students Who Are First in Their Families to Attend College

Reina Olivas, right, speaks to reporters at an EWA journalism seminar in Los Angeles, February 27, 2016. (Photo credit: EWA/Mikhail Zinshteyn)

A few weeks ago Reina Olivas got on the phone with a freshman college student. “She was having a hard time with the cultural experience, the college experience,” said Olivas, a college mentor who’s in her third year at the University of Texas at Austin. “So I asked her this initial question – ‘Have you gone to office hours?’”

Olivas is part of an eight-person crew at the Dell Scholars Program that connects with 1,500 college students across the country who could use a helpful hint from other students who also are wending their way through higher learning.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

SAT Makes Bid to Better Serve Poor Kids

David Coleman speaks to reporters at an Education Writers Seminar in Los Angeles, February 27, 2016. (Credit: EWA)

The SAT has been called out of touch, instructionally irrelevant, and a contributor to the diversity gaps on college campuses because the test arguably benefits wealthier students who can afford heaps of test preparation.

But now the SAT is fighting back. The College Board, the test’s owner, is hoping that a major makeover of the assessment that’s set to debut this weekend will persuade critics that students, teachers and colleges still need an exam that has been a centerpiece of the admissions landscape for 90 years.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Report Connects Student Debt to ‘Structural Racism’

Bigstock

Minority student loan borrowers are struggling at disproportionate rates to pay back their debt, leading a pair of researchers to draw a connection to structural racism in higher education and other parts of American society. 

According to data released last week by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, U.S. zip codes that are home to higher shares of blacks and Latinos also had higher rates of delinquency in loan repayment, specifically among minority residents in the middle class.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Students Rich and Poor Are Stressed Out Over Paying for College

b r e n t/Flickr (CC By 2.0)

A survey of the nation’s college freshmen indicates a class of young adults stressed out about the cost of financing a degree, even if they’re relatively well off.

The study by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute lends new insight into not only the concerns young college students have about their debt loads, but also the effects high school experiences have on their attitudes about higher education.

EWA Radio

Iowa Is First: The Presidential Candidates – and Their Education Plans
EWA Radio: Episode 57

(Flickr/Phil Roeder)

Iowa prides itself on holding the first caucuses of the presidential election year. EWA public editor Emily Richmond talks with statewide education reporter Mackenzie Ryan of the Des Moines Register about what it’s like to be at the epicenter of the presidential race insanity, her coverage of Republican hopeful Marco Rubio, and the big concerns for Iowa voters when it comes to public schools. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Can Youth Vote Change Election Outcomes?

University of Missouri students volunteering at a campus voter registration event in 2012. The youth vote could be a critical factor in this year's elections, as well, experts say. (Flickr/KOMU News via Creative Commons)

With the first caucuses of the presidential election year imminent, it’s worth asking: Who will turn out among young voters in Iowa and subsequent states? And could their choices help swing the final result to the underdogs instead of the presumed front-runners?

Seminar

Higher Ed 2016
September 16–17 • Tempe, Arizona

What new techniques and practices should higher education embrace to ensure that more students graduate? Join the Education Writers Association September 16–17 at Arizona State University to explore cutting-edge innovations that aim to address financial, academic, and social barriers. More on the seminar theme.

This annual seminar is one of the largest gatherings of journalists covering postsecondary education. Network with others covering this beat and step up your coverage for the upcoming academic year.

Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona
Blog: The Educated Reporter

EWA Radio: Here Are Your Favorites of 2015

It’s been a terrific year for our scrappy little podcast, and we’re thrilled to report an equally stellar lineup coming to EWA Radio in 2016.  

I’d like to take a moment to thank the many journalists and education experts who made time to join us for lively conversations, and to all of you who have offered suggestions for stories and guests to feature. Please keep the feedback coming! 

Here’s a quick rundown of the 10 most popular episodes of the year:

Multimedia

What College Affordability Means for the Election
Education & the 2016 White House Race

What College Affordability Means for the Election

College affordability has become a key topic in the 2016 presidential campaign, whether through Democratic candidates’ outlining varying approaches to a debt-free education at public universities or Republican contenders’ suggesting income-sharing arrangements and accreditation reform. A discussion of the nuances and potential of these ideas.

  • Jason Delisle, New America
  • Terry Hartle, American Council on Education
  • Neal McCluskey, Cato Institute
  • Colin Seeberger, Young Invincibles
  • Kimberly Hefling, Politico (moderator)
Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Cafécolleges Offer Unique Approach to Higher Ed Help

Cafécollege in San Antonio opened in 2010 to assist students of all ages with their higher education questions. Now, the center is being replicated in Houston. Source: Flickr/ via lee leblanc (CC BY 2.0)

A cup of coffee in a comfortable lounge may be just what students need to keep them relaxed about the college application process. At least, that’s what a new education-focused center in Houston is going for. 

Cafécollege Houston opened last week, modeled after San Antonio’s successful center with the same name – a “one stop shop” for teens and adults looking for guidance on college applications, financial aid, the college transfer process and more.

Seminar

College Readiness: What Does It Mean for Higher Ed?

“College and career readiness” has become the rallying cry for what high schools should aim to achieve for their graduates. But large numbers of students still arrive on college campuses needing remedial courses, and many of those who are academically ready still struggle to adapt to college and earn their degrees.

Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel
711 S Hope St, Los Angeles, CA 90017
Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Saving on College by Doing Some of It in High School

Gov. Dannel Malloy announces the creation of Connecticut's first P-TECH high school, modeled after the IBM-backed school in Brooklyn, New York. (Source: Flickr/Dannel Malloy)

Last week the White House announced a new higher education experiment that will direct federal grants to some high school students who want to enroll in college classes.

The plan is to start small, with the administration offering $20 million to help defray the college costs of up to 10,000 low-income high school students for the 2016-2017 academic year. The money will come from the overall Pell Grant pot, which is currently funded at more than $30 billion annually and used by 8 million students.

Report

Learning While Earning: The New Normal
Center on Education and the Workforce

Learning While Earning: The New Normal finds that over the last 25 years, more than 70 percent of college students have been working while enrolled. These 14 million college students face the challenge of balancing work, school and other life priorities. The report explores these working learners and finds that students can’t work their way through college anymore to offset debt. It also identifies several policy changes that stand to help these students succeed.

Webinar

Seven Challenges First-Generation College Students Face & How to Write About Them

(Bigstock/michaeljung)

While many first-generation students are excited and ambitious when they step on campus — eager to beat the odds and become the first in their families to earn a college degree — others struggle with guilt, fear and loneliness, sometimes even struggling to remember why they decided to attend college in the first place. And they grapple with these feelings while they also have to figure out how to apply for financial aid, register for classes, and manage the other necessities of undergraduate life knowing they can’t turn to their families for guidance based on experience.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Their Roles in Higher Ed

Panelists Alicia Diaz, left, of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and Kathleen Plinske, a Valencia College campus president, discussed the roles of Hispanic-serving institutions at EWA's 2015 Spanish-Language Media Convening. The discussion was moderator by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez or Southern California Public Radio. 
Source: Valencia College/ Don Burlinson

In recent years, the United States has seen overall enrollment declines in the numbers of students seeking postsecondary degrees, but in a panel about Latinos in higher education at the Education Writers Association’s second annual Spanish-Language Media Convening, the executive director of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities reminded journalists of one area of growth: The number of Hispanic-serving institutions is on the rise and accelerating.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

How Community Colleges Are Helping Transfer Students

Source: Bigstock

Students who transfer between colleges and universities on their path to achieve a college degree often encounter obstacles — barriers, like lost credits, that could keep them from finishing their degree altogether. At EWA’s recent seminar in Orlando focused on higher education, reporters got a lesson in the data on transfer students and heard from experts who are making the process of transferring and going on to earn degrees easier for students at their community colleges.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

White House Celebrates Hispanic Education During Heritage Month

Alejandra Ceja, left, speaks at a White House celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month Thursday, Oct. 15. Ceja is the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence of Hispanics. Source: Flickr/ via US Department of Education (CC BY 2.0)

In a speech honoring Hispanic Heritage Month and the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics Thursday, President Obama praised Hispanic students for helping drive the U.S. high school graduation rate to an all-time high and also announced the commitments of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to boost student academic success. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Higher Ed. Gets Brief Spotlight During Democratic Debate

Twitter/@NBCNightlyNews

It took nearly two hours, but education — more specifically college affordability and some differences in how to address it — came to the fore in the first Democratic presidential debate after CNN co-moderator Dana Bush asked both Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about their plans.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Debt-Free College: Why It’s News Now

As Democratic presidential hopefuls assemble in Las Vegas today for their first formal debate, one topic that has received little airtime during the Republican face-offs is likely to garner far more attention: the high cost of attaining a college degree.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Georgia Supreme Court Considers Whether DACA Students Pay In-State Tuition

The Georgia Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in a controversial case to grant in-state tuition benefits to some undocumented immigrant students. 
Source: Flickr/ via peoplesworld (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In-state tuition for undocumented immigrant college students is again in the spotlight this week in a case that’s made its way to the Georgia Supreme Court. Central to the arguments the justices will hear is whether students living in Georgia who have been granted federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals should be considered lawful state residents. 

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

The New Effort to Link College to Careers

Students of the culinary program at Valencia College in Orlando demonstrate their kitchen skills. (Source: Twitter/@GabrielleRusson)

As tuitions swell and student loan debt climbs further, one aspect of higher education that has been overlooked is the recipe required to transform a college education into a set of skills that prepares students for the workspace.

As it turns out, neither colleges nor employers have a firm grasp on what flavor that special sauce should have, reporters learned at “The Way to Work: Covering the Path from College to Careers” – the Education Writers Association’s seminar on higher education held in Orlando Sep. 18-19.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

CNN Debate Aside, Ed. Finds Way Into Presidential Race

Twitter/@YahooNews

Education didn’t exactly make a splash in this week’s Republican presidential debate — barely a ripple, actually — but the issue has gained considerable attention in the 2016 contest for the White House, from debates over the Common Core to proposals on higher education access and affordability.

Seminar

69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Student Debt Forgiveness Program Adding Up

Flickr/COD Newsroom (CC BY 2.0)

A government program that allows student loan borrowers to reduce their monthly payments significantly is growing in popularity — and increasingly eating into U.S. federal coffers.

The U.S. Department of Education is sticking to the rosier news in a brief report released this week that shows the number of U.S. student loan holders enrolled in income-based repayment plans has jumped by more than 50 percent since last year. According to the government, 3.9 million borrowers have signed up for income-based repayment plans as of June of this year.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

NCLB Rewrite Survives Senate Vote

A mock schoolhouse outside the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. (Flickr/elonjoned)

It’s been a hugely busy week for education reporters on Capitol Hill, as the Senate plowed its way through the Every Child Achieves Act, one of the leading contenders to replace No Child Left Behind as the nation’s framework for funding public schools.

The Senate approved passage of the bill Thursday with 81-17 vote. 

Report

State Financial Aid Database
Education Commission of the States

The ECS 50-state policy database provides a comprehensive look at the 100 largest state-funded financial aid programs across the country. This resource is intended to inform discussions surrounding current program design, innovative models already in practice in the states, and assist states in identifying peer programs. The 50-state data also reveals opportunities for states to rethink aid programs in light of contemporary students.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Money Magazine’s College Rankings Examine How Much ‘Value’ Students Get

The folks at Money magazine are largely doing the work the White House sought to do but hasn’t: rate colleges and universities by the extra boost they give students in landing financially rewarding careers.

Released this week, Money’s rating system ranks more than 700 schools according to an in-house rubric for measuring how much value a college offers students given its price of attendance. 

Multimedia

New Insights on State Funding for Higher Education
2015 EWA National Seminar

New Insights on State Funding for Higher Education

The Great Recession saw most states drastically cut their spending on public colleges, leading most of those colleges to increase their tuition. As the national economy continues to recover, how has state funding for postsecondary education fared and what does it mean for students and their families?

  • Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, The Washington Post (Moderator)
  • Daniel Hurley, American Association of State Colleges and Universities
  • Laura Perna, University of Pennsylvania
  • Ray Scheppach, University of Virginia
Multimedia

Can FAFSA Be Fixed?
2015 EWA National Seminar

Can FAFSA Be Fixed?

How many questions does the crucial federal financial aid form really need? Proposals to simplify have ranged from trimming the form’s dozens of questions to replacing the form with just few queries on a postcard. This session illuminates how key questions can affect how much aid a student receives.

EWA Radio

After Pushback, White House Yields on College Ratings
EWA Radio: Episode 28

After nearly two years of public debate, and vociferous pushback from the higher education community, the White House announced it is pulling back on plans to rate the nation’s colleges based on a complex matrix of performance measures and student outcomes. Paul Fain, news editor for Inside Higher Ed has been following this story closely since the beginning, and he helped break the news that the Obama administration was scrapping the most controversial parts of its original proposal.

He spoke with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about who’s surprised by the decision (hint: not a lot of people), and the role played by aggressive lobbying against the rating plan by much of the higher education community. Fain and Richmond also discussed college ratings and consumer tools already available, and how to answer parents and students who ask for advice on choosing a school.

Story Lab

Story Lab: Making Federal Data a Gold Mine for Your Reporting

Need a state or national statistic? There’s likely a federal data set for that. From fairly intuitive and interactive widgets to dense spreadsheets — and hundreds of data summaries in between — the U.S. Department of Education’s various research programs are a gold mine for reporters on the hunt for facts and figures.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Hispanics More Optimistic Than Most About Higher Ed Access, Affordability

Source: Flickr/ COD Newsroom (CC BY 2.0)

When asked in a recent poll whether education beyond high school is available and affordable to those who need it, Hispanic respondents were optimistic.

The results of a recent Gallup-Lumina Foundation poll reveal that while overall, Americans feel higher education is not affordable, the majority of Hispanics feel it is. And on the issue of access, Hispanics were also more confident than white and black survey-takers. 

Report

The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education

Rising cost and lower government aid have made it even more difficult for poor students to obtain a college degree today than 45 years ago.

The Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the U.S. — 45 Year Trend Report, draws on U.S. Census statistics and educational data to make the compelling and disturbing case that inequality in obtaining a college education has substantially grown in the past 45 years.

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State Funding Trends and Policies on Affordability
U.S. GAO

From fiscal years 2003 through 2012, state funding for all public colleges decreased, while tuition rose. Specifically, state funding decreased by 12 percent overall while median tuition rose 55 percent across all public colleges. The decline in state funding for public colleges may have been due in part to the impact of the recent recession on state budgets. Colleges began receiving less of their total funding from states and increasingly relied on tuition revenue during this period.

Report

“4-Year” Degrees Now a Myth in American Higher Education
Complete College America

In their latest report, Four-Year Myth, Complete College America and its Alliance of States reveal that the vast majority of full-time American college students do not graduate on time, costing them and their families tens of thousands of dollars in extra college-related expenses, as well as lost wages from delaying entry into the workforce. The report also points to spikes in debt in years 5 and 6 and shows that the overwhelming majority of public four-year colleges graduate less than half of their students on time.