Rising Costs, Rising Debt, Diminishing Value

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.

The result?

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.


How did we get here?

The causes are complex. The cost of providing a high-quality college education continues to grow. But state funding—which used to pay for most of public higher education—has slowed as other funding priorities have emerged. At the same time, institutions have been unwilling or unable to address the “root causes” of why college costs so much, especially cost drivers that are under their control.

Students and families are left to foot the bill through tuition and fees that seem to increase year after year with no end in sight.

Affordability is a key component of the college completion and equity agenda. Concerns about skyrocketing prices, unmet need, and debt can impede college enrollment and completion, particularly among low-income, first-generation, and minority students.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We believe that:

· Students should not have to mortgage their economic future for a college degree.
· Public higher education should be an accessible engine of socio-economic mobility for students of all income levels and backgrounds.
· Students, their families and the public deserve to be heard on decisions that impact the price of a college degree.
· Innovation and collaboration will unlock greater educational opportunities for all students, and should be incentivized and rewarded.
· Public colleges and universities should be flexible in meeting the needs of today’s students and our nation’s workforce by offering affordable pathways and stackable credentials.
· The time for a major, national effort to address the crisis in college affordability has come. In fact, it is long overdue.
the result

An explosion in higher education debt, now over $1.4 trillion, held by over 44 million Americans.

Today’s student debt crisis, which surpasses combined outstanding credit card debt, has become a hinderance to graduates’ economic mobility.


Less likely to buy a home

(NY Fed, 2013)

Less likely to start a new business

(Philadelphia Fed, 2015)

More likely to live with their parents

(Fed’s Board of Governors, 2015)

Less likely to save for their retirements

(Brookings, 2014)

More likely to have negative household wealth

(Armantier, 2016)

More likely to have an inferior credit rating score

(NY Fed, 2013)

State Policies

Learn about commonsense policies to improve affordability, accountability and transparency at public universities.


State Stats

Explore college affordability data and policies in your state.