College completion report part II: College aid and affordability



Last week, we reported on the College Completion Agenda and the dismal rate of progress being made regarding progress in improving graduation rates utilizing a set of recommendations recommended by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center Advisory Board.

This week, we’re going to look at the Board’s findings regarding college affordability.  Although the economic crisis of the last few years has absolutely affected students who are seeking college degrees and their families, not all of the news is bad.  While it’s too soon to tell exactly what will happen to grants and other forms of aid in the next two years because of government deadlock, from 2004 – 2008 (last available dates for this data), student grant aid was increased in all college categories (after adjusting for inflation), except private for-profit four- year colleges.

Average Federal Grant Aid Increases/Decreases 2004 – 2008 for Dependent, Low Income Students


Unfortunately, although federal grant aid increased, more students than ever are graduating with debt loads that are unmanageable. While the report says that most students who graduate with debt are able to manage it, many students overestimate the amount of money they will be able to make once they graduate, or they do not complete the programs for which they took out loans.

Among public college graduates in 2009 – 2010, 56% of nontransfer students graduated with debt.  Among private non-profit college graduates during the same time, 65% of students graduated with debt.  According to the report, graduates of four-year public colleges left school with an average debt of $12,300, while at four-year private non-profit colleges, graduates had an average debt load of $18,300.

The Board notes that more students would qualify for federal and state aid if the FAFSA process were easier to navigate and easier to fill out, especially for low-income and first-generation college students.  The Board recommends that Congress remove all financial questions that cannot be answered using IRS data, but Congress has yet to act on that recommendation.

Regrettably, despite efforts to keep costs affordable, the recession has harshly affected many students and their families.  When adjusted for inflation, wages for low-income families decreased by 16% from 2000-2010, and by 6% for moderate income families during the same period.  While families have been hammered by falling earning, states have significantly decreased their funding for education.  This decrease in funding has caused tuition and other costs to rise dramatically, keeping even more students out of the education loop.