The Case for Federal Higher Education Affordability Standards

The Case for Federal Higher Education Affordability Standards

Although federal legislation in 2010 allocated $36 billion in new funds to the Pell Grant program for low-income college students and indexed grant amounts to inflation, the changes have not made higher education any more affordable, a report from the finds. The report, (44 pages, PDF), found that Pell Grants covered, on average, only 30 percent of the cost of attending a four-year public university in 2016, down from 11 percent in 2008, in part because costs are determined by individual schools, state legislatures, and governors. Taking their cue from how the federal government addresses affordability issues in the areas of health care and housing, the report's authors call for benchmarking financial aid benefits to the goal of making a basic college education affordable for all, rather than just providing a fixed grant amount. To that end, the report offers a new framework for postsecondary affordability that guarantees a low- to no-cost education for the lowest-income individuals and ensures that students higher up the income spectrum can afford an in-state public option without having to pay out more than a reasonable share of their income.