March 10, 2020
Digging into Data on College Affordability

Vice President for Policy and Advocacy

No doubt about it: The college affordability problem is complex.  

How public colleges and universities balance the expense of providing a college education with the revenues they receive from taxpayer dollars, from tuition and fees from in-state and out-of-state and international students, and from other sources can be confusing to a seasoned financial professional—much less to students and families.

But that complexity shouldn’t be passed on to students and families trying to decide whether going to or continuing to go to college is a sound financial decision.  

That complexity also shouldn’t be passed on to taxpayers, whose dollars go to public colleges and universities with the expectation that they’re used to fulfill a common public mission.  

Thankfully, we have data from government and other sources to help us begin to shine a light on college affordability, an institution’s commitment to its public mission, and the return on investment of a college education to students.

In our College Affordability Dashboard, we’ve put together data that we believe represent the performance of colleges and universities on factors that are important to students and families in making decisions about their investment in higher education and that facilitate greater accountability for public dollars. These data are already available from multiple public sources, but by putting them together this way, we hope that they inform conversations about how we—colleges and universities, policymakers, and the public—can work together to make college more affordable for more students.    

Metrics include average net price (the amount that students and families need to pay after grants and scholarships are deducted from total cost of attendance); change in tuition and fees over the past decade; proportion of in-state students; proportion of students who receive a Pell grant; typical debt after graduation; and economic outcomes of students after attending a particular college or university.

We’ve started with Virginia, but we’ll continue to build out the College Affordability Dashboards in the coming months. If you have suggestions on how they can be improved, let us know by emailing me at We’re eager to hear from you!