Most Full-Time Students Can’t Work to Pay for College Anymore, Says Study on Affordability

Posted By Terri Williams on May 27, 2016 at 12:02 pm
Most Full-Time Students Can’t Work to Pay for College Anymore, Says Study on Affordability

While a college degree continues to increase in value, its price tag is spiraling out of control – and many American families cannot afford what has now become an essential stepping-stone on the path to a successful career.

GoodCall recently published an article on a Georgetown University study, “Good Jobs are Back: College Graduates are First in Line,” which revealed that 97% of “good” jobs require a college degree. And a recent CareerBuilder survey revealed that 27% of employers want a master’s degree for positions that previously required a bachelors’ degree.

According to new research by the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE), Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, and The Higher Education Policy Institute, the cost of college is beyond the reach of many low- and middle-class families.

The 2016 College Affordability Diagnosis is an extensive report on the state of college affordability that reveals several troublesome facts about the cost of higher education for American families, including:

A postsecondary education is less affordable than it was in 2008. Affordability is determined by adding all educational expenses (tuition and room/board minus financial aid) as a percent of family income.

Student financial aid does not go as far as it once did. Even when federal, state, and institution-based financial aid is included, the remaining economic costs are a burden to families.

Most full-time students can no longer work their way through college. Even at a community college, students would have to work more than 20 hours a week.

Debt is the only option for many low- and middle-income students who want to attend school full-time. However, these families have little discretionary income and even short-term financial setbacks can cause major disruptions.

So what are the most and least affordable states?

10 most affordable states 10 least affordable states
1 Alaska New Hampshire
2 Wyoming Pennsylvania
3 Hawaii Rhode Island
4 California Alabama
5 New Mexico Vermont
6 Maryland Ohio
7 Texas South Carolina
8 Arizona Massachusetts
9 West Virginia Maine
10 New Jersey South Dakota


GoodCall spoke with Dr. Joni E. Finney, Professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, and Director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education about the study. “The idea is to provide state-level policy leaders an idea of how affordable colleges in their states are, and how they compare with other states,” explains Finney. “Before you make policies, it’s important to know you are addressing the needs.”

She says that one of the real concerns and surprise findings of the report was the revelation that most students can no longer work their way through college, especially since low- and middle-income families don’t have funds to contribute to higher ed.

“Since 2008 and the Great Recession, we have really declined in affordability across the board,” says Finney. “Those making $48,000 or less a year are already spending more than they earn and asking them to spend 20% of their income on college is unreasonable.” And Finney adds that middle-income families aren’t much better off.

“Loans are the default policy option, and many low-income families will not borrow because they are already overextended.”

Finney says there is a direct correlation between the cost of higher education and the number of students enrolled in college. “Every time we increase tuition by $1,000, we will lose about 3% in enrollment; if you add that up nationally, that’s millions of students.”

The states that have large minority populations are also more likely to have a higher percentage of families earning less than $30,000 a year. And if these families are not able to afford college, they are less likely to rise above that income range. It’s a problem that has national ramifications. According to Finney, “The U.S. already ranks 12th globally in competitiveness.” And when millions of young Americans don’t attend college, Finney says, “This will push the U.S. even further down the line in a knowledge-based economy.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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