Promising Affordability Practices in Oklahoma, Tennessee
What the research tells us

Blog post

SREB’s Commission on College Affordability in the South convened in New Orleans in December 2014 for its second meeting to focus state policies on increasing the students’ ability to pay for and complete college. Members learned what the research tells us about affordability’s effects on enrollment and completion and heard about promising practices in two states, Oklahoma and Tennessee. 

“States have set ambitious goals for college completion, and to reach them we will have to enroll many more students,” said SREB President Dave Spence. “These additional students will come primarily from groups that are more sensitive to price, such as low-income students, adults returning part-time, and those who will be the first in their families to attend college.”

In Tennessee, programs such as lottery scholarships, tnAchieves, Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect and a push for students to take 15 hours per semester are working to increase enrollment and completion, said Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Richard Rhoda. Surplus lottery revenue is funding Tennessee Promise to fund gaps in financial aid and encourage more students to attend community colleges and enroll full-time. 

In Oklahoma, a year-round program of outreach has helped legislators understand how higher ed funding is being spent and how it benefits the state. Glen Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and chair of SREB’s Affordability Commission, shared the results of financial aid, student services and academic readiness programs.

Will Doyle, associate professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University, reviewed the research on how affordability strategies affect attendance and completion. 

Tuition, financial aid and net price affect attendance. For each $1,000 increase in price or decrease in aid, enrollment drops between 2.5 percent and 5 percent. The effect is higher for low-income and underserved students.

Debt affects career choice at graduation. Students with higher debt loads are less likely to accept lower-paying positions in public service or government, for example.

Working slows completion time. Why is it taking so much longer for students to graduate? Many are working more to pay higher costs. Research shows that working more hours can lower grade-point averages as well.

Coordinating or governing boards reduce net price. States where governing boards have tuition-setting or review responsibility (rather than individual institutions or planning boards) have on average 40% lower total costs for higher ed and 52% lower costs for students.

Commission members agreed that affordability recommendations must consider part-time students, and that the definition of affordability is different from state to state. The Commission will meet again in spring and summer 2015.