The U.S. might not be the land of opportunity people think it is–at least, not when it comes to college affordability.

A new paper from the Institute for Higher Education Policy and the Lumina Foundation describes in detail how the high costs of higher education are preventing those with limited financial means from achieving their educational goals.

The problem, in part, is due to declining state funding for higher education. This places the financial burden squarely on the shoulder of families and students, for whom college affordability is often a challenge.

Despite increase in the federal Pell Grant, the funding gap hasn’t closed, as rising college costs outpace inflation and increase in income.

(Next page: 5 recommendations to help college affordability)

In fact, on average, low-income students need to finance an amount equivalent to more than 100 percent of their family’s annual income to attend one year at a four-year college, according to the report. High-income students must only finance 15 percent on average.

But “affordable” and “not affordable” can mean different things to different people. The Lumina Foundation created an Affordability Benchmark, with input from higher-ed experts, to address the issue of college affordability, what the cost of a college degree is, and what the cost should be. The framework seeks to provide a reasonable and equitable perspective from which to consider what is affordable for families of different incomes and means.

That framework, as detailed in the paper, reveals that very few colleges meet a “reasonable threshold of affordability” for students of modest means. But there are actions that might help.

The paper offers five recommendations to address issues of college affordability that negatively affect college access and completion:
• Federal policymakers should protect and strengthen the Pell Grant
• States should strengthen direct investment in public colleges and need-based aid programs
• Colleges should manage institutional costs to concentrate expenditures on students
• Colleges with wealth at their disposal—either in the form of large endowments or company profits—should keep prices low for needy students
• Congress should pass legislation to improve consumer information and transparency, giving students the information they need to make affordable choices

“These recommendations are not entirely novel or original. The truth is that many practitioners, advocates, and policymakers know what must be done. What we need now is bold action and
political bravery to spearhead these much-needed reforms. Students, our economy, and our nation can wait no longer,” the authors write.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Editorial Director, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura