Making college more accessible—and affordable—for all Americans

In 2010, graduates who took out loans left college owing an average of more than $26,000.

Earning a postsecondary degree or credential is no longer just a pathway to opportunity for a talented few; rather, it is a prerequisite for the growing jobs of the new economy.

Over this decade, employment in jobs requiring education beyond a high school diploma will grow more rapidly than employment in jobs that do not; of the 30 fastest growing occupations, more than half require postsecondary education. With the average earnings of college graduates at a level that is twice as high as that of workers with only a high school diploma, higher education is now the clearest pathway into the middle class.

In higher-education attainment, the U.S. is being outpaced internationally. While the United States ranks ninth in the world in the proportion of young adults enrolled in college, we’ve fallen to 16th in the world in our share of certificates and degrees awarded to adults ages 25-34—lagging behind Korea, Canada, Japan, and other nations.

“Education is not a luxury: It is an economic imperative that every hard-working and responsible student should be able to afford.”

We also suffer from a college attainment gap, as high school graduates from the wealthiest families in our nation are almost certain to continue on to higher education, while just over half of our high school graduates in the poorest quarter of families attend college. And while more than half of college students graduate within six years, the completion rate for low-income students is around 25 percent.

Acknowledging these factors early in my administration, I challenged every American to commit to at least one year of higher education or postsecondary training. I also set a new goal for the country: that by 2020, America would once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

To achieve this goal, my administration has worked to make college more accessible, affordable, and attainable for all American families.

Helping middle-class families afford college

America is home to the best colleges and universities in the world—yet tuition and fees have skyrocketed over the past decade, making it more difficult for American families to invest in a higher education for their future.

Today’s college students borrow and rack up more debt than ever before. In 2010, graduates who took out loans left college owing an average of more than $26,000. Student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt for the first time ever.

Our nation’s commitment to placing a good education within reach of all who are willing to work for it helped build a strong American middle class over the past several generations.

In keeping this promise alive, I’ve expanded federal support to help more students afford college, while calling for a shared responsibility in tackling rising college costs. These efforts have produced the largest investment in student aid since the G.I. Bill, while resulting in a more efficient, reliable, and effective system for students to help them afford college and manage debt.