How Well Prepared Are Students and their Families to Pay the Price of Attending College?

This month, the U.S. Department of Education released two reports that raise important concerns as we think about the goal of preparing all students for college and career. One report presents findings from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) fall 2010 data collection and examines the price of postsecondary attendance.[1] The report notes a substantial increase over the past decade in average tuition and required fees; for example, the report cites a 47 percent increase for in-state students and 35 percent for out-of-state students at 4-year public postsecondary institutions. The average tuition and required fees for in-state students who attended these institutions in 2010-2011 is about $6,800 per year and $15,700 for out-of-state students. Factoring in housing costs (i.e., living on campus), the report cites an average price of attending a public institution of approximately $19,500 per year for in-state students and $28,900 for out-of-state students. (Tuition at nearly every other type of postsecondary institution increased substantially as well.) To put these figures into context, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the median household income in the United States was $49,445 in 2010.[2] Indeed, median income is moving in the opposite direction of college costs; it declined 2.3 percent from the 2009 median. On the other hand, poverty rates have increased; there were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009. The Census Bureau reports that this is the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published. The bottom line is that the cost of attending college is getting higher at a time when family and state budgets are getting tighter. As we think about the goal of preparing all students for college and career, a critical question arises: How well prepared are students and their families to pay the price of college? The second report released by ED suggests that answer is, not well prepared at all.[3] According to this report drawn from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), about one in four 9th graders had parents who expected them to attend college and planned to help them pay for it but who had not yet started to save money to do so. A little more than one in ten (13 percent) 9th graders had parents who expected them to attend college but had not thought about whether or not to help their child pay for college and another one in ten had parents who reported no plans to help them pay, though they expected their child to attend college. None of this is to suggest that families are the only source for college funding—many college students finance their educations through financial aid, scholarships, and employment. However, the trends reflected in these new reports suggest that paying for college could become increasingly challenging for aspiring students and their families. Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders. [1] Knapp, L.G., Kelly-Reid, J.E., & Ginder, S.A. (2011). Postsecondary Institutions and Price of Attendance in the United States: 2010–11, Degrees and Other Awards Conferred: 2009–10, and 12-Month Enrollment: 2009–10, retrieved from: [2] [3] LoGerfo, L., Christopher, E.M., and Flanagan, K.D. (2011). High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09). A First Look at Fall 2009 Ninth-Graders’ Parents, Teachers, School Counselors, and School Administrators (NCES 2011-355). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.  

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