Thursday, June 30, 2011

Making College Affordability More Transparent

By Ellen Anderson, Director of Research. 

I’ve been blogging about college affordability, access, and the boom of for-profit colleges over the last year (see Efforts to Regulate For-Profit Colleges Continue and The Rise of For-Profit Colleges). Continuing the conversation, the New York Times highlights a new tool rolled out by the U.S. Department of Education in an attempt to make the bottom line of cost of college more transparent and to draw attention to the most and least affordable institutions in the country. The Higher Education Opportunity Act on College Costs of 2008 required public access to lists which rank intuitions with the highest and lowest net prices, increases in tuition, and tuition costs. Bottom line estimates of attending full-time for a full academic year include room and board and average financial aid packages. This makes gauging the value, affordability, and long-term debt load of attending a college more transparent for students and their families. The Act also requires private, not-for-profit , and public two-year and four-year schools with the most rapid increases in costs to explain to the Education Department why costs have increased and their plan to ensure affordability moving forward. 

You might be shocked to learn, as I was, at how expensive community college has become – the national average is now $6,780/year in net costs. The most expensive community college in the country is the Florida Keys Community College ($23,515), with several 2-year colleges in New Hampshire ($14,568 - $17,980) and Minnesota ($11-694 -$16,681) also topping the list. Some of the most affordable public two-year colleges are in North Carolina (net costs ranging from just $76 to $3,139), which has long been held by many in economic development as having the strongest community and technical college system in the country. 

You can generate custom reports that the College Affordability and Transparency Center, view state post-secondary spending charts, and find a list of for-profit schools which receive more than 90 percent of their revenues from Federal Student Aid at the Higher Education Opportunity Act on College Costsclearinghouse website.