Making higher ed more affordable: College presidents weigh in

Writing in The Conversation, three college presidents share their thoughts on the most promising ways to make college more affordable, especially for low-income students, students of color, and students from working-class backgrounds.

Grow state aid, increase endowments, and expand Pell Grant eligibility

Noting that “a college education has many funders,” Jill Tiefenthaler, president of Colorado College, outlines several sources of additional support that could help increase access. In addition to calling for greater state funding, she says “the key to making private institutions more affordable is increasing endowments through philanthropy” to maximize the funds available for financial aid.

Tiefenthaler also would like to see an expansion of the federal Pell Grant program. She points out that the maximum Pell Grant in academic year 2018-19 is $6,095, which covers annual tuition at most community colleges but only for students with annual family incomes of less than $60,000. She says that funding should not drop off as family income increases but instead should be made available to all low- and middle-income students who qualify.

Reynold Verret, president of Xavier University of Louisiana, echoes Teifenthaler’s call for increasing the amount of and eligibility for Pell Grants. He goes further to say that Pell Grants also should apply to summer terms to increase students’ likelihood of graduating on time.

Start college prep in K-12

Verret adds that the K-12 years are crucial in setting the stage for timely college completion: if all students graduated high school with strong math and language skills, they’d require fewer prerequisite courses in college. To accomplish equity in K-12 schools, Verret suggests “bold steps” such as loan forgiveness and repayment programs directed at those who enter and stay in the teaching profession in areas with the greatest need.

Prioritize timely completion

Timely college completion is paramount, agrees Eric Barron, president of Pennsylvania State University. He says ongoing debate about the cost of college has downplayed the significance of timely completion, pointing out that “a tuition increase pales in comparison to going to school for another year.” He calls on universities to keep “a laser-like focus on mitigating all factors that slow the time to the completion of a degree.” Completion programs should be a priority, he says, especially for first-generation, low-income students who work long hours at part-time jobs to make ends meet. Barron says that every student should have access to a financial literacy advisor and that colleges must “not allow students to slip away because of finances or other hardships.”

“We can serve our mission of upward mobility and save students millions in costs and debt if we help every student, regardless of financial capability, to graduate, and graduate on time,” Barron concludes.

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