"The college affordability crisis is a familiar story to most Americans. A simplified version often goes that state funding for higher-ed institutions has decreased dramatically over the years, which has translated into massive tuition hikes for students and their families," EdSurge reports. "Sandy Baum, a fellow in the Education Policy Program at the Urban Institute, watches the issue—and its proposed solutions—closely. The story usually gets encapsulated into examples of students trapped in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. And while this may be the case for some students, Baum notes that it’s not always the full picture."
"Adding to that complexity of affordability and financial aid, a handful of startups and nonprofits have pitched themselves as a solution for students, whether it’s helping them find and apply for financial aid or by offering shorter-term and cheaper alternative degrees.
EdSurge talked with Baum about these issues—and about how innovative approaches are or aren’t helping solve the college affordability crisis. Subscribe to the EdSurge On Air podcast on your favorite podcast app (like iTunes or Stitcher). Or read highlights from the conversation (which have been edited and condensed for clarity).
EdSurge: Tuition has skyrocketed but we know there are a lot of additional costs associated with college. There's housing, transportation and plenty of others. One criticism of free community college programs is that they don't account for these expenses always. So from your perspective, are these free programs free enough?
Baum: There are lots of weaknesses to free community college programs. One of them is that free means tuition-free. It does not usually mean that your whole budget is covered. The reality is that for low-income students, a very large percentage of low and moderate-income students get their tuition covered at community colleges even without these programs because they are eligible for any say, grant aids.
Most [free] college programs are what we call last-dollar programs, where they say if you do not have enough grant aid to cover your tuition and fees, then we'll give you money to cover the rest of it. So most of the free community college programs are only giving extra money to people who aren't really poor, who can afford to pay the tuition. They're not helping low-income students at all, in terms of giving them extra money.
What we would need would be if you actually erased the tuition, and the low-income students could keep their Pell Grants. Then they could use that money to help cover their books and supplies and their living expenses. So just saying free tuition, absolutely does nothing to help financially most of the low-income students. It does not address the problems that students face with their living expenses while they are in school."
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Publication Date: 6/14/2018