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Community College Affordability

Posted on September 2, 2022 at 12:00 PM by Monica Clark

What's with the cost of college tuition?

It has dominated conversations about higher education in recent years and for a good reason. Between 1980 and 2020, the average price of an undergraduate degree increased 169 percent, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Higher expectations for services, more emphasis on student success, and inflation have all resulted in greater funding needs while state support has diminished. 

Some options for closing the gap

While conversations about tuition are important, it’s also difficult to get a clear picture of affordability. Many programs exist (nationally and in Iowa) to help students afford tuition. From the Pell grant to the Last Dollar Scholarship, many can get their tuition costs reduced substantially or even completely. Yet, this doesn’t make attending college affordable in many cases. 

More than just tuition costs 

To really understand the cost of college we must look beyond tuition. Books, materials, housing, food, transportation, and childcare are also factors for many of our students who don’t have family support. On average, these costs far outweigh the cost of tuition for most students. They are also much less likely to be covered by financial aid packages.  

Who is affected by economic barriers?

These costs can be real roadblocks for students thinking about starting college and trying to finish. A recent study by The Hope Center found that as many as 3 in 5 students have experienced basic needs insecurity. This could mean they didn’t have housing or were unable to feed themselves at some point during the school year. The problem is worse for Community Colleges, where 39 percent of students in the same study said they were affected by food insecurity, compared to 29 percent of students at four-year institutions. These insecurity rates are higher in marginalized populations, including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and those financially independent from their families. 

As we consider affordability: 

It’s critical to look at the whole picture and consider institutional and state policies and funding sources to help meet the needs and ensure students have the chance to succeed. 

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