Focus on the true cost of college and the financial needs of students. Measure the full cost of attendance and unmet needs for various populations and locales in order to target investments and interventions appropriately.
The cost of attending college has risen significantly faster than the rate of inflation in recent decades. Many factors contribute to that trend, including reductions in state investments in higher education. The end result is that many people who are contemplating postsecondary education must choose to either forgo college or join the ranks of the 45 million Americans with student loan debt. Since most jobs today require a postsecondary credential, college affordability also affects employers. If recent high school graduates or adults who want to pursue new career opportunities cannot afford college, they will not attain the skills they and their prospective employers need.
To effectively address college affordability, states must understand the issue. States often focus only on tuition and assume that rising rates affect all families equally. They must recognize that college affordability is not a monolithic issue, and they should track data that paints a complete picture of the types of students likely to find college unaffordable. By capturing detailed information about college affordability for people of different income levels, and by tracking financial aid needs that go unmet, states can create a foundation of information that can inform policy solutions that support students of all types.
States should also provide more need-based financial aid than merit-based aid to steer resources toward students who have the greatest need rather than subsidizing those who may be better able to afford college. Finally, state college promise programs should cover some expenses beyond tuition and fees for community college students.
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