The College affordability crisis: Real solutions or lip service



The staggering level of college loan debt in our country finally seems to be getting some long-overdue national attention.

Among the proposals for how to deal with this issue is one called “Pay It Forward,” a program that would substitute after-graduation payments based on earnings for up-front tuition.

The proposal has been attractive to students facing huge loan payments and to conservatives looking to decrease even further the public investment in higher education.

A while back CFHE raised questions about whether this proposal offered a real solution. Others are now taking a look and also finding that it just isn’t what we need.

For instance, a recent study from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, puts forward a sweeping critique of the Pay It Forward concept.

Not only would most students pay more under these schemes; but the proposal would actually increase the class divide that already exists in higher education and further erode support for publicly funding higher education.

The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education has argued for other proposals to be placed on the table and debated publicly. One idea we put forth at the beginning of 2013, “free higher education for all,” seems to be gaining ground.

For instance, a recent report funded by the Lumina Foundation and co-authored by Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall, also proposes that two years of post-secondary education be free.

In this case “free” is defined to mean that:

–Students would not face any costs for tuition, fees, books or supplies, and

–They would receive a stipend and guaranteed employment at a living wage to cover their living expenses.

Money to pay for this would come from existing expenditures on higher education.

With all that is stake, we need more vigorous discussion of proposals that, like this one, address the full range of cost barriers many college students face and that pay more than lip-service to the much-invoked concept of affordability.