The promise of American public higher education is at risk. Our nation’s public institutions enroll over 70 percent of college students. But being able to afford to go to a public college or university continues to be a concern for many students—not just those from low-income families, but increasingly those from middle-class families as well. In the last 30 years, tuition and fees have increased by more than 200 percent at public universities and by more than 100 percent at community colleges. Related expenses like textbooks, housing, food, and transportation have also skyrocketed. Even when grants and scholarships are considered, going to college now takes up a significant portion of a family’s household income, which has stagnated in comparison. Families of color are hardest hit.
Rising out-of-pocket costs for students and families have led to an explosion in higher education debt, now over $1.6 trillion, held by over 44 million Americans. Students who graduate from public four-year institutions now typically leave with almost $30,000 in student loan debt. Student loan debt has become a hinderance to graduates’ economic mobility and prosperity and puts the value of a college degree in question.
Today’s student debt crisis, which surpasses combined outstanding credit card debt, has become a hinderance to graduates’ economic mobility.