Statistics show that in 2000, the lowest income-families spent up to 25% of their income to pay for tuition in public four-year institutions (College Board, 2001 in NCPPHE, 2002). In some cases -- like those of two students profiled in the report -- they spend even up to a whopping 40% of their total income to pay for tuition alone (Valigra, 2002, in NCPPHE, 2002).
2. Grant aid to students has not kept pace with increases in tuition
A major component of college education affordability is financial aid for needy students. While federal and state governments have provided most of this aid, the increase in budget allocation for financial aid has not kept up with tuition fee increases during the last two decades (NCPPHE, 2002). There are other sources of financial assistance that may be tapped by students such as institutional grants. However, these resources are increasingly used either to recruit academically gifted students to the institution or awarded as research grants to faculty and post-graduate students (NCPPHE, 2002). In other words, university and college grants are becoming merit-based rather than need- based.
As a consequence, needy students have had to be extra-resourceful and aggressive in seeking other sources of financial aid. One student applied for 50 different scholarship grants during her freshman year (Valigra, 2002, in NCPPHE, 2002). To quote another student: "I apply for as many (scholarships) as possible. I can't wait for the spring term so I can apply again." (Russo, 2002, in NCPPHE, 2002). it's also admirable how some of them have ingeniously sought assistance from benefactors like Rotary club, women's clubs, fraternal orders, and foundations (Russo, 2002; Valigra 2002, in NCPPHE, 2002).
3. More students and families are borrowing more than ever before to pay for college
Perhaps the most alarming trend stated in the report is how some low-income students and families have ended up being in incessant debt to cope with the high cost of college education. Borrowing money has been the most prevalent response to high tuition costs, after other ways of coping -- working longer hours, reducing their course load, lengthening their time to graduation, shifting to less expensive colleges - have been exhausted (NCPPHE, 2002).
Almost all of the students profiled in the report have debt burdens, mostly in subsidized loans. Indirectly, this seems to be the consequence of the shift from grants to loans in the federal financial aid system over the last twenty years (NCPPHE, 2002). Personal loans can also be significant in some students. One of them owes family members a few thousand dollars (Witkowsky, 2002 in NCPPHE, 2002). Another student has a shocking debt of $18,000 in her credit card bills (Burdman, 2002, in NCPPHE, 2002).
For many students, the pressure of debt is unlikely to ease up after graduation. Depending on the job opportunities available for their qualifications, it will take a good number of years for them to get out of their college education debt. A Special Education major said she is looking forward to earning $35, 000 once she starts working, but she would have to live within $20,000 a year to start paying off her debt (Burdman, 2002 in NCPPHE, 2002). Hence, the trend won't stop after graduation. As students, a huge chunk of students' income is spent paying for their education. Later as professionals, a considerable proportion of their income will be still be appropriated to paying off that debt incurred for their education. A long-term financial consequence of these debt repayment responsibilities is that it may affect their ability later in life say to purchase a home and save up for retirement (NCPPHE, 2002).
A college or university education is increasingly becoming less affordable for many American students and families. In general, family income and federal/state financial support for higher education have not been commensurate with tuition fee hikes in both public and private colleges and universities over the last twenty years. Consequently, Americans work longer hours than before, incur greater debt, and spend a larger share of their income to pay for college.
National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (2002). Losing Ground: A National Status Report on the Affordability of American Higher Education. Retrieved September 7, 2009, from, http://www.highereducation.org/reports/losing_ground/ar.shtml
National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (2000). Measuring up 2000: The State by…