Average Pell Grant recipient able to afford few 4-year public colleges

A new report from the National College Access Network (NCAN) finds that affordability is decreasing at the nation’s two- and four-year public institutions. NCAN measures affordability by calculating an institution’s in-state cost of attendance plus $300 in emergency expenses and seeing if it exceeds the sum of average grant awards, average loan disbursement, expected family contribution of the average Pell Grant recipient, average Federal Work-Study award, and average summer wage contribution.

The new analysis indicates that 48 percent of community colleges and 27 percent of four-year public colleges were affordable for Pell Grant recipients during the 2016-17 school year. Education Dive notes that those numbers were 54 percent and 35 percent, respectively, during the 2012-13 academic year. Eight states—Arizona, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin—had no affordable four-year public institutions.

A call for state investment and a stronger Pell grant

“States really ought to look at how they’re investing their money in higher education,” Bill DeBaun, director of data and evaluation at NCAN, told Education Dive. “If you have more affordable higher education as a state, you would be increasing access for students and reaping the benefits of that downstream.”

Writing in The Hill, Kim Cook, NCAN’s executive director, points out that the report helps show the extent of the college affordability problem. She calls on federal policymakers to focus not only on tuition but also cost-of-living expenses and makes the case for doubling the Pell Grant to increase its purchasing power.

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