EPI's weekly illustration of education data trends — March 22, 2017

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Average Cost of Attendance (COA), Grant/Scholarship Aid, and Net Cost for Full-Time, Degree-Seeking Students at Four-Year Institutions (Title IV), by Family Income, 2014-15


This edition of EPIGraph provides a motherlode of data on the cost of attendance, grant aid, and net cost for students at four-year institutions by family income. Take some time to look at the three charts below: the first for public four-year institutions; the second for private, not-for-profit four-year institutions; and the third for the private, for-profit sector.

As expected and warranted, families with more disposible income end up paying a higher percentage of net cost than families on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, and the difference is quite discernable. Perhaps the most compelling data illustrated is the net cost associated with low-income families (<$30,000/year). At the public four-year institutions, this group still is responsible for 50 percent of the cost of attendance (average net cost = $9,712). And while the percentage owed by low-income families is lower at the private, not-for-profit institutions, the total amount is astonishing high (average = $17,224). Of course, the highest amount AND the highest percentage of cost owed and paid by low-income families is at the private, for-profit institutions, whom pay 74 percent of the total cost totalling $21,800.

So what does this mean? Clearly, low-income students still pay a large share of their total cost of attendance, on average, when compared to students from other income groupings. While we may argue that 50 percent, or $9,700 of the bill is too much at the public institution, surely $17,224 is far too much at private, not-for-profits and $21,800 excessive at the private, for-profit institutions.

Regardless of political persuasion, this is a political issue to tackle not just for the affordability of higher education in a given year, but the ongoing and escalating cost differential between income bands that increases annually. If private institutions, both not-for-profit and for-profit, are not going to provide additional institutional aid to low-income students, perhaps these students shouldn't attend these institutions. For policymakers, work needs to be done to make public institutions more affordable, too.




SOURCE: Ginder, S.A., Kelly-Reid, J.E., and Mann, F.B. (2016). Graduation Rates for Selected Cohorts, 2007–12; Student Financial Aid, Academic Year 2014–15; Admissions in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2015: First Look (Provisional Data) (NCES 2017-084). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved March 1, 2017 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch.