A Plan for Making College Affordable

If you’ve been following #highered on social media lately, you may have noticed that college affordability and student loan debt are attracting attention of the 2016 presidential contenders. Many candidates harp on colleges to lower costs and on states to increase their funding, but any solution to making college more affordable needs to do more than simply cut back on tuition. It should also ensure that colleges provides a high-quality education for all students, supporting them through graduation and giving them a degree that will make them employable in the workplace.

This is especially important for low-income students who have less money to spend on college (on average, 72 percent of a low-income family’s earnings is what’s needed to cover college costs) and are less likely to apply to competitive colleges. But low-income students need degrees the most — to increase their earning power and keep them from falling into an overwhelming amount of debt.

That’s why we think The Education Trust’s Tough Love proposal is the right approach. It sets three key standards for measuring outcomes at colleges and universities to ensure that the investment of taxpayer money is a sound one. Under the proposal, colleges must:

  • enroll at least 17 percent of full-time freshmen who are Pell Grant-eligible,
  • maintain graduation rates of at least 15 percent, and
  • maintain low student loan repayment rates (or until these data are publicly available, a cohort default rate of 28 percent or less).

With these standards in place, students might not feel like they’re #drowningindebt post-graduation.

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