SREB Commission Calls for States to Focus Policy on College Affordability
States, colleges, families share responsibility
Need-based aid for low-income students should be a priority
Leaders from 16 states are calling for states to elevate affordability for students — especially those from low-income families — as the top priority of their higher education finance policies and practices.
In a new report released today, SREB’s Commission on College Affordability in the South recommends that each state set a target that helps families afford postsecondary education, then aim its policies for tuition, financial aid and state funding to colleges toward that mark.
Shared Responsibility for College Affordability documents how states have lost ground on college affordability while demand for college-educated employees has grown. By 2020, 62 percent of jobs in the South will require postsecondary education, but only 39 percent of young adults in the SREB region hold an associate degree or higher.
“College credentials are necessary today for jobs that open doors to the middle class,” said SREB President Dave Spence. “The size of the challenge cannot be understated. State economies simply cannot thrive with the projected shortfalls in attainment.”
To significantly increase the number of people who start — and complete — college, states will need to focus on students from lower-income families, who have historically attended at lower rates. Protecting affordability for the growing number of low-income and first-in-the family students should be the highest priority, the report recommends. Acknowledging that this imperative comes when state revenue streams have been constrained, the Commission recommends that any new funding be dedicated to aid based on financial need — and that need-based aid be protected even during difficult budgets.
The Commission report charts data that show SREB-state educational attainment, workforce demand, diversity, poverty, funding, debt and tuition in national and international contexts, then offers eight recommendations each state can tailor to its own demographic, economic and education infrastructure.
“The Commission’s recommendations are grounded in a model of shared responsibility, which recognizes that states, students and families, colleges and universities, and the federal government all have a role in higher education affordability,” said Glen D. Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and chair of the SREB Commission. “Each state needs a clear policy framework that articulates the responsibilities of each party and brings them together in service of affordability.”
Policy should clearly articulate the share of costs students and families are expected to contribute from savings, earnings and debt. Colleges and universities should be accountable for constraining costs and improving quality. To help more working adult and part-time students complete credentials, states should develop programs that leverage funding from multiple sources.
The net price of higher education is tuition, fees, room and board minus grant aid students receive from the state, federal government or the college. Affordability is this net price in the context of family income, or ability to pay. By taking into consideration more than simply tuition and fees, the Commission’s definition is grounded in the economic realities of the students and families who live in a state.
The Commission encourages each state to begin by defining the level of affordability that will help meet its goals for college attainment. Next, states should review their policies for tuition, financial aid and state appropriations to colleges to be sure practices are aimed together at that target.
To inform policymakers’ efforts, SREB has published an array of regional and state-by-state data, outlined questions to frame policy reviews, and pledged to support states in this work in the coming years.
Beth Day, SREB Communications