NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

College Affordability Report Stirs Debate

January 7, 2002

Some education professionals are concerned that a new report on college accessibility for lower-income students may leave the impression among parents that a college education is far harder to attain than it really is.

Researchers at the Lumina Foundation for Education, which prepared the report, used complex formulae to analyze and classify by state the accessibility of nearly 2,900 institutions. Admissions standards, federal loan limits and income and available financial aid were among the criteria.

The report defined "accessibility" as a combination of affordability and admissibility, and found financial aid and affordability varied widely among states.

  • It concluded that more than one-fourth of public colleges in 16 states are considered inaccessible for low- and median-income parent-dependent students.
  • In 33 states and the District of Columbia, fewer than half of all institutions are accessible to low-income independent students -- defined as those who are 24-years old or older.
  • Public two-year colleges are consistently the most affordable institutions in every state.
  • While the report considers only 125 of the 1,142 private institutions affordable to low-income students, in fact 40 percent of undergraduates there come from families earning less than $40,000 a year.

Terry Hartle, of the American Council on Education, criticized the report for presenting "a terribly incomplete and inaccurate message about the affordability of higher education."

The Lumina Foundation's Jerry Davis acknowledges that the findings don't reflect the average college-going behavior of students -- but says the report's intent was to document "the environment in which students made decisions about college."

Sources: Mary Beth Marklein, "Affording College May Depend on Where You Live," and "College Is Out of Reach for Many," both in USA Today, January 7, 2002.


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