College Affordability


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.

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. 


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.


State Funding Trends and Policies on Affordability

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.


“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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Merit System? The Choices Colleges Make in Providing Financial Aid

Flickr/ meddygarnet (CC BY 2.0)

Name the batch of funding that accounts for a quarter of the money that public universities dole out in financial aid. Can’t?

It’s called merit aid, and a large portion of the college-going public is paying its way through school relying on it. One-third of all undergraduates receive merit aid; the same is true for nearly half of all private school students. Hope Scholarships in Tennessee and Georgia are examples of merit aid programs, though merit aid often comes from the institutions directly.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Reporting on College Financial Aid? EWA Can Help

Who deserves money for college more: students whose test scores and grades qualify them for “merit aid” or students with greater financial need who might be unable to afford college otherwise? New research suggests that colleges might increasingly be favoring less-needy students, in a quest to boost their schools’ rankings and help their bottom lines. Does that finding hold up to scrutiny? And how do colleges’ decisions on need-based versus merit aid affect college enrollment and completion?


A Great Recession, a Great Retreat
David A. Bergeron, Elizabeth Baylor, Antoinette Flores, Center for American Progress

Public investment in higher education is vital to the performance of our economy. First and foremost, America’s public colleges and universities offer citizens a steadfast path toward personal economic growth and opportunity. An educated workforce also delivers a substantial return on public investment in the form of economic expansion through sustained employment, higher earnings, new and continued business development, and ultimately, higher tax revenues.


A Federal Work Study Reform Agenda to Better Serve Low-Income Students
Young Invincibles

Decades ago, a young person could graduate from high school, join a company, and receive all the training on the job that she or he needed for a successful career. Today, the world is different. A young man with only a high school diploma now earns 75 cents on the inflation-adjusted dollar his father made in 1980. Even worse, a brutal recession and sluggish recovery has young people confronting double-digit unemployment rates. Fierce competition for entry-level positions requires our generation to not only acquire post-secondary education, but also gain on-the-job experience and skills.


Colleges’ Pursuit of Prestige and Revenue Is Hurting Low-Income Students

Fifty years ago, the federal government committed itself to removing the financial barriers that prevent low-income students from enrolling in and completing college. For years, colleges complemented the government’s efforts by using their financial aid resources to open their doors to the neediest students. But a new report from New America suggests those days are in the past, with an increasing number of colleges using their financial resources to fiercely compete for the students they most desire: the “best and brightest” — and the wealthiest.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Adding It Up: Financial Aid and Latino Students

Deborah Santiago shares information on financial aid at the EWA Spanish-Language Media Convening. Source: Jay Torres, Diario La Estrella

“How will I pay for college?”

Sound familiar? I’m still asking myself this question three years after I graduated.

Though not unique to college-bound Latino students, this question is one many of them face – perhaps even more dauntingly than their peers.

Deborah Santiago of Excelencia in Education discussed the process of college finance as it particularly relates to Latinos at the Education Writers Association’s Spanish-Language Media Convening in Dallas Sept. 4.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Experts: The White House Plan to Rate Colleges Has Major Issues

Michelle Asha Cooper(L), director of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, speaks at the Higher Education Seminar put on by the Education Writers Association and hosted by Southern Methodist University (Credit: SMU 2014, Photo by Kim Leeson)

A new rating system backed by the White House aims to evaluate nearly all of the nation’s colleges and universities. Roughly 6,000 schools that educate around 22 million students are about to endure an unprecedented amount of federal scrutiny.

And though a version of the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System is scheduled to be unveiled in the fall, policy watchers are still unsure of what’s in store.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Follow-Up Friday: Catch Up with EWA Radio

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for EWA Radio, the podcast I co-host with my EWA colleague Mikhail Zinshteyn. In case you missed the most recent episodes, you can catch the replays. (I’ve been told we make a fine accompaniment to walking the dog, moderate-paced elliptical trainer activity and even the occasional lunchtime Greek yogurt consumption.)


At What Cost?
How Community Colleges that Do Not Offer Federal Loans Put Students at Risk

With Americans increasingly having to borrow to pay for college, a new report from The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) finds that nearly one million community college students cannot get federal student loans because their school chooses not to offer them. Without access to federal student loans, students may not be able to stay enrolled without turning to more costly and risky forms of borrowing such as credit cards or private loans, or reducing their chances of graduating by working longer hours or cutting back on classes.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

‘Tuition Tracker’ Shows Real Price Tags For College

In the wake of the 2008 recession, college cost and affordability have become increasingly hot topics. As tuition prices have continued to rise well above the pace of inflation — with no accompanying growth in family incomes — the issue of access for low- and middle-income students has received more attention, to the extent that, in January, President Obama held a White House summit to press college leaders to do more for the poorest students.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

How Will Starbucks Tuition Program Impact Latinos?

Starbucks made a splash Monday when the company announced plans to pay tuition for its employees to take online classes from Arizona State University. 

Employees who are admitted as juniors or seniors will receive full tuition scholarships, those with less will receive partial scholarships.

To qualify, employees must work at least 20 hours a week and qualify to be admitted to Arizona State.

While the program is not explicitly designated as benefitting minorities, it is clear that many of those Starbucks employees who stand to benefit are Latino.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Performance-Based Funding: Do the Numbers Add Up?

State governments increasingly are tying money for higher-education institutions to performance-based outcomes such as graduation rates, rather than just student enrollment. Twenty-five states now have some sort of performance-based model and four others are planning to follow. But there are still major questions about how schools respond to these models and what outcomes they have. Those issues were the focus of a panel discussion at EWA’s 67th National Seminar, held last month at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Covering the College Student Experience
2014 Higher Ed Seminar

For many college students — whether fresh out of high school or adults returning to school — their most serious obstacles to a degree won’t be homework or tests, but rather the challenges of navigating student life. Colleges are now being forced to face the longstanding problems that have often led to students’ flailing and failing on their own. 


The One Percent at State U
Institute for Policy Studies

State universities have come under increasing criticism for excessive executive pay, soaring student debt, and low-wage faculty labor. In the public debate, these issues are often treated separately. Our study examines what happened to student debt and faculty labor at the 25 public universities with the highest executive pay (hereafter “the top 25″) from fall 2005 to summer 2012 (FY 2006 – FY 2012). Our findings suggest these issues are closely related and should be addressed together in the future.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Top 10 Higher Education Stories You Should Be Covering

Scott Jaschik addresses reporters at EWA's 67th National Seminar at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

For higher education reporters, Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik’s annual top-10 list of story ideas is a highlight of EWA’s National Seminar. This year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Jaschik kicked off his roundup with  an issue that has affected many institutions around the country: sexual assault. The key to covering this story, he said, is not to imply that this is a new problem. Increased attention from the White House has challenged the ways that many colleges have addressed these incidents.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Tennessee’s Haslam Aims for Mantle of Education Governor

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam addresses attendees at the 67th National Seminar.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam laughingly admitted during a speech at the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar this week that his state hasn’t always been known as a “hotbed of education reform”—or frankly, a place known for its academic achievement.

Moreover, he wasn’t the state CEO who ushered in a series of dramatic education policy changes that has put the state on the national school reform map. Still, he said at the May 19 appearance in Nashville, he’s been the guy “standing in the doorway making sure we don’t retreat.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Stay Ahead of the Curve With EWA Webinars

In case you missed it, the recording is now available for our webinar on the approaching 60th anniversary of  Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision which outlawed segregation in the nation’s public schools.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Fla. Governor Supports In-State Tuition Proposal

Despite having one of the largest Hispanic populations in the country, Florida legislators have struggled for years to drum up support for a measure granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant college students.

Now the proposal is beginning to look more within reach. Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, expressed support for the measure for the measure this week.


U.S. GAO – Federal Student Loans: Better Oversight Could Improve Defaulted Loan Rehabilitation

The Department of Education (Education) relies on collection agencies to assist borrowers in rehabilitating defaulted student loans, which allows borrowers who make nine on-time monthly payments within 10 months to have the default removed from their credit reports. Education works with 22 collection agencies to locate borrowers and explain repayment options, including rehabilitation.

Key Coverage

Getting Into College — and Paying for It: A Teen’s First Adult Decision

 More than three-quarters of current college freshmen were admitted to their first-choice schools, according to a recently released survey from the University of California at Los Angeles, but only 56.9 percent chose to attend, an all-time low for the annual survey. Students cited high costs and financial aid as the reasons they declined their top schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What Does College Really Cost?

We know that college costs have been soaring, but are students from different economic backgrounds being impacted equally? And if not, what accounts for the difference in the price tags?

Key Coverage

Texas Public Universities Are More Affordable Compared with Most States

Texas public universities remain more affordable compared with most states, though out-of-pocket costs for many families continue to rise.That’s based on a Dallas Morning News analysis of cost data that colleges report to the federal government.

The published cost to attend a Texas public university averages more than $20,000 a year for in-state students. Thanks to financial aid, most students pay less than that.


About Tuition Tracker

The 2018 Tuition Tracker online tool, which was updated and relaunched on Oct. 18, 2018, makes it easy to look up and compare the annual prices charged by more than 3,800 public, private and for-profit colleges and universities.

Key Coverage

Wealthier Families Increasingly Benefit from Federal, College Financial Aid

It’s not just colleges and universities that are shifting their financial aid from lower-income to higher-income students.

Tuition tax credits and other tax breaks to offset the cost of higher education — nearly invisible federal government subsidies for families that send their kids to college — also disproportionately benefit more affluent Americans. So do tax-deductible savings plans and the federal work-study program, which gives taxpayer dollars to students who take campus jobs to help pay for their expenses.

Key Coverage

How Some Families Pay Less for College Than Others

The sticker price at Pennsylvania State University runs about $30,000 a year for in-state students. At Swarthmore College, it’s nearly twice that.

Yet Swarthmore ends up being cheaper for most students. That’s because this private liberal-arts college near Philadelphia offers many families a hefty discount, bringing down the average cost to even less than taxpayer-subsidized Penn State’s.

Key Coverage

Data Show Poorer Families Are Bearing the Brunt of College Price Hikes

Nick Mills of McKinney and his twin brother received scholarships from the University of North Texas based on academic success and family income, which made the school within financial reach. As states have cut spending on higher education, public universities have raised tuition to make up the difference. (Tom Fox/Courtesy: Dallas Morning News)

America’s colleges and universities are quietly shifting the burden of their big tuition increases onto low-income students, while many higher-income families are seeing their college costs rise more slowly, or even fall, an analysis of federal data shows.

It’s a trend financial-aid experts and some university administrators worry will further widen the gap between the nation’s rich and poor as college degrees—especially four-year ones—drift beyond the economic reach of growing numbers of students.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Study: Latino Student Success Depends on Financial Aid

A new study examines the strategies used to improve Latino students’ access to financial aid in San Antonio, Texas.

The advocacy group Excelencia in Education conducted the study entitled “The Impact of Financial Aid on Student College Access and Success: The San Antonio Experience.”

The study highlights the importance of financial aid by noting that U.S. Census Bureau data from 2011 showed that only 12 percent of Latino adults in San Antonio have an associate’s degree or higher — in a city that is 72 percent Latino.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

SXSWedu: Education Ideas ‘Big and Bright’ in Austin

I’m in Austin for the next few days at the SXSWedu conference, which will bring together big thinkers, educators, and entrepreneurs to talk about latest philosophies, approaches, and technology reshaping the business of schooling. I’ve packed my boots, my trendy glasses, and plenty of extra notebooks that I fully expect to fill up with Big Ideas. 


The Student Debt Review
Ben Miller, New America Foundation

Using the last four quadrennial NPSAS surveys, this Student Debt Review report examines how different students, pursuing different credentials, experience debt differently. It shows gradual, across-the-board growth in student debts across different institutions and credentials between 2003-04 and 2007-08, and much faster increases in borrowing between 2007-08 and 2011-12.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

‘Dream Project’ Helps Undocumented Students

The Virginia-based nonprofit “Dream Project” provides counseling and scholarships to undocumented immigrant students so they can attend college.

The group is especially important because Virginia does not offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. The program offers mentoring, professional and academic activities and scholarships of about $1,000-$2,000 to deserving students.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

State of the Union: What Education Analysts Expect to Hear

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

The annual State of the Union address to Congress – and the nation – is President Obama’s opportunity to outline his administration’s goals for the coming months, but it’s also an opportunity to look back at the education priorities outlined in last year’s address – and what progress, if any, has been made on them.

Among the big buzzwords in the 2013 State of the Union: college affordability, universal access to early childhood education, and workforce development.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Welcome to the New EWA Online

If you had bookmarked The Educated Reporter, you’ve probably noticed it now takes you to EWA’s brand-new (and, I might add, thoroughly fantastic) website. But don’t be fooled – the new site is about a lot more than just good looks: It’s also easy to navigate and search, and collects all of our first-rate content under one roof.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

States Balk as GED Gets More Expensive

Life for the nearly 40 million Americans without a high school diploma could be about to get harder as testing companies who create high school equivalency exams are rolling out tougher – and in some cases — more expensive

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Higher Ed Beat: What Are the Top 10 Stories on College Campuses?

Higher Ed Beat: What Are the Top 10 Stories on College Campuses?

I’ll admit it – I look forward every fall when Scott Jaschik shares his “cheat sheet”of story ideas at EWA’s annual Higher Education Seminar.This year we met at Northeastern University, and Scott didn’t disappoint.We asked journalists who attended the seminar to contribute posts, and today’s guest blogger is Michael Vasquez of the Miami Herald.For more on higher education issues, including community colleges,

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The College Admissions ‘Match’ Game: Should Preference Play Role in the Process?

EWA held its annual Higher Education Seminar recently at Boston’s Northeastern University. We invited some of the education journalists in attendance to contribute posts from the sessions. Today’s guest blogger is Brian McVicar of the Grand Rapids Press. For more content from the seminar, including stories, podcasts, video, check out EdMedia Commons

EWA Radio

Making the Most of Online Education

Research has found that the types of students most likely to opt for online courses for reasons of access, including low-income, black and Latino students, are the same students who are least likely to succeed in those courses. What practices and programs are succeeding at beating this trend? Speakers: Thomas Bailey, Director, Community College Research Center; Jay Bhatt, President and CEO, BlackBoard Inc; Bror Saxberg, Chief Learning Officer, Kaplan Inc.; Steve Kolowich, Staff Reporter, The Chronicle of Higher Education (moderator) Recorded Saturday, Sept.

EWA Radio

The Changing Face of College

The next few years could be a turning point for higher education, as the traditional student population starts to shift dramatically. How long will the total number of new high school graduates continue to decline? Of that pool of students, what percentages will be black and Latino or from low-income backgrounds? What will these changes herald for postsecondary education?

EWA Radio

The Struggle to Fill Seats

With the total numbers of new high school graduates dropping while tuition prices rise, many private colleges and universities have seen their enrollment numbers decline. Because most of these schools depend on tuition revenue in order to operate, these shortfalls pose serious threats to their existence. Which schools are in jeopardy and why? Speakers: Jarrett L. Carter, Founder and Editor,; William S. Reed, Chair, Davis Educational Foundation; Jon Marcus, Contributing Editor, The Hechinger Report (moderator) Recorded Friday, Sept.

EWA Radio

Elizabeth Warren on Student Debt and College Costs

Sen. Warren (D-Mass.) discusses rising college costs and student debt reform at EWA’s 2013 Higher Ed seminar Sept. 28, 2013. Please note: Due to a faulty microphone, the sound quality during the first part of the Q&A is shaky. Because the audio is not completely obscured, the event is presented here in its entirety. The audio for Sen. Warren’s speech and the second half of the Q&A is normal.

EWA Radio

New Prescriptions for Remedial Education

The biggest obstacles that many undergraduates face en route to a college degree are the remedial or developmental courses in which they will be placed for their first year. These courses, which students must pass before they can take classes that carry college credit, add to the expense and time it takes to earn a degree. Are such classes really needed? Or can schools replace them with other forms of academic support?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How I borrowed a lot and paid back a little: A writer’s take on Income Based Repayment

In May of my senior year at Union College (See photo), the only thing I was thinking about was passing finals and completing papers with pretentious titles.  Postgraduation plans, like a job, were nothing more than vapors momentarily wafting in the way of those footnotes buried in my textbooks.  I had no idea what kind of job I’d get, but I did know one thing for certain: I’d wrap up my college education with roughly $17,000 in federally subsidized debt.


What’s the Price? ‘Pay As You Earn’ and Income-Based Repayment
57 minutes

Who will benefit more from the federal government’s new “Pay As You Earn” income-based repayment program for student loans: Recent graduates struggling to find jobs in a tough economy? Or high-paid professionals such as lawyers and business executives, who might be able to wipe away tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt? Why are the income-based repayment options so underused when as many as one out of five borrowers has fallen behind on payments?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

From Battlefield to Classroom: Veterans Head for Higher Education

James Dao of the New York Times has a fascinating story about active-duty troops and veterans taking advantage of federal tuition assistance for higher education, often in unusually challenging circumstances.

From Dao’s story, here’s the scene at a U.S. military airfield in Afghanistan moments after humanities class’ discussion of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was interrupted by a rocket attack:

EWA Radio

Dealing with Student Loan Debt: The Problems

Student loans have become a focal point in the national debate over college affordability. This session examines the impact that loan debt has on students, both while they are pursuing their degrees and after they have graduated. Panelists: Stephen Burd, New America Foundation (moderator); Vic Borden, Indiana University School of Education; Chris LoCascio, Fix UC; Vasti Torres, Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research. Recorded at EWA’s Seminar for Higher Education Reporters at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Nov. 2-3, 2012.

EWA Radio

Dealing with Student Loan Debt: The Solutions

Are there alternatives that can either prevent students from accumulating loan debt while they are in school or assist them in repaying their debt after they have earned a degree? In this session, we examine the pros and cons of options such as income-based repayment and student loan bankruptcy reform. Panelists: Kim Clark, Money (moderator); Lauren Asher, The Institute for College Access and Success; Rohit Chopra, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Nicholas Hillman, University of Utah; Lynn O’Shaughnessy, The College Solution.

EWA Radio

Turning the Page on Textbooks: More Affordable Options

Plummeting prices for e-readers and tablet computers mean big changes for the textbook industry, as more students and professors clamor for digital versions of traditional paper editions. What does this shift in the publishing world mean for college costs, and how are universities getting e-textbooks into the hands of students? Panelists: Jeff Young, The Chronicle of Higher Education (moderator); Nicole Allen, U.S. PIRG; Bruce Hildebrand, Association of American Publishers; Mickey Levitan, Courseload.


College Affordability: Covering the Costs

College Affordability: Covering the Costs

President Obama called for making college more affordable in his 2012 State of the Union Address. But how? Do increases in federal financial aid spur mounting prices, or help more students afford higher education? Would incentives aimed at curbing tuition increases actually work? What about honesty about the true cost of college? Goldie Blumenstyk, senior writer and columnist with the The Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses these questions with Michelle Asha Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy.


Buskin Lecture: Mayor Cory Booker

Buskin Lecture: Mayor Cory Booker

The Mayor of Newark, NJ speaks at EWA’s 65th National Seminar on education inequality, innovation, and the need for tough questions in school coverage.


Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey on the Price of College

Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey on the Price of College

Kevin Carey, policy director at Education Sector, talks with EWA’s Caroline Hendrie about his radical idea for reining in the price of postsecondary education, and offers tips for excising jargon from education writing.


EWA Interview: Putting College Costs in Context

EWA Interview: Putting College Costs in Context

Robert Archibald, author of Why Does College Cost So Much?, talks about why higher education should be viewed in the context of other sectors of he economy. Recorded at EWA’s Nov. 4-5 seminar for higher education reporters.


State Higher Education Executive Officers

The State Higher Education Executive Officers organization surveys its members on a regular basis regarding various financial trends in higher education. These SHEEO reports can be the foundation for a variety of articles about the affordability of postsecondary education.


Delta Cost Project

The Delta Cost Project is a research organization that examines how colleges and universities collect and spend the revenues upon which they depend. Their research can be critical to most articles that deal with the financial aspects of colleges, particularly the reasons why tuition and other costs have been increasing.


Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was established in 2010, the CFPB quickly has established itself as a watchdog for families struggling to make sense of the student loan business. Its reports are key resources for reporting on college finance.


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators is the leading professional organization for university officials who manage the processes that award students financial assistance. Their advocacy and policy work on college affordability and student debt can serve as useful resources in reporting, and their national conference often highlights key issues regarding college costs.


The College Board

The College Board is known primarily for their SAT and Advanced Placement tests, which play critical roles in the college admissions process, both for students and admissions officers across the country. The College Board, however, does also have an Advocacy & Policy Center that actively researches key issues of college access and success. Their annual reports regarding trends in college costs and financial aid are key tools of the higher education beat.


The Institute for College Access and Success

The Institute for College Access and Success is an advocacy group that works to promote college affordability. Based in San Francisco, they can offer perspectives on various aspects of college costs, such as net price calculators, student debt, and income-based repayment of student loans.


State Higher Education Finance 2012

State and local government financial commitment to higher education has increased substantially over the past twenty-five years. In 1987, state and local governments combined provided $33.3 billion in direct support for general operating expenses of public and independent higher education institutions. This investment increased to $50.3 billion in 1997, $82.7 billion in 2007, and $88.8 billion by 2008 (the high point in national aggregate funding).

Key Coverage

The Cost of Need-Blind

For some selective private colleges, the ability to admit students without consideration of their need for financial assistance from the institution might some be a thing of the past. 


Trends in Pricing

The yearly report from the College Board, usually issued each October, is considered one of the most up-to-date summaries of average college net and sticker prices. Be aware, however, that there seems to be a disconnect between the net price numbers and trends published by the federal government and the numbers and trends published by the College Board. So be sure to check both because they sometimes diverge and will lead to opposite conclusions.

Key Coverage

For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall

The growing role of class in academic success has taken experts by surprise since it follows decades of equal opportunity efforts and counters racial trends, where differences have narrowed. It adds to fears over recent evidence suggesting that low-income Americans have lower chances of upward mobility than counterparts in Canada and Western Europe.


Innovation in Higher Education: Public Opinion Survey Poll

This survey captures many conflicting perspectives on college affordability, capturing the costs-benefits analysis families face as the cost of an education rises. For example, while most respondents thought a college degree is very important, they also weren’t certain that it offered a good return on investment. 

Key Coverage

Student-Loan Delinquencies Now Surpass Credit Cards

Of the $956 billion in student-loan debt outstanding as of September, 11 percent was delinquent — up from less than 9 percent in the second quarter, and higher than the 10.5 percent of credit-card debt, which was delinquent in the third quarter. By comparison, delinquency rates on mortgages, home-equity lines of credit and auto loans stood at 5.9 percent, 4.9 percent, and 4.3 percent respectively as of September. 


Student Debt and the Class of 2011

We estimate that two-thirds (66%) of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student loan debt, with an average of $26,600 for those with loans. The five percent increase in average debt at the national level is similar to the average annual increase over the past few years. Also similar to previous years, about one-fifth of graduates’ debt is comprised of private loans. 

Key Coverage

The Parent Loan Trap

A joint examination by ProPublica and The Chronicle of Higher Education has found that PLUS loans can sometimes hurt the very families they are intended to help: The loans are both remarkably easy to get and nearly impossible to get out from under for families who’ve overreached. 


Debt, Jobs, Diversity and Who Gets In: A Survey of Admissions Directors

At a time of increasing national concern about debt levels of college students, a plurality of college admissions directors in a new survey by Inside Higher Ed indicated that current average loan volume for undergraduates is reasonable — and 22 percent of all admissions directors and 28 percent of those at private colleges would be comfortable with the average student debt being even higher than it is now.