3 Takeaways for NCAN Members from The College Board’s Reports on Student Aid, College Pricing

October 18, 2018

By Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate

The College Board released its annual student aid and college pricing trends reports this week, and while some of the more predictable findings call for continued advocacy from NCAN members, others offer a sliver of good news.

Here are some key takeaways from the reports on three of the most pertinent issues facing NCAN members and their students.

Federal Work-Study

One of NCAN’s federal policy priorities is reformation of the Federal Work-Study (FWS) formula to direct more of this program’s dollars to the students who need them most. Currently, FWS funds flow to colleges and universities based largely off how long these institutions have benefitted from the program, which resulted in 35 percent of program dollars going to students in the top two income quintiles in 2016.

Findings from the College Board report on student aid confirm the inequitable allocation on hand. Forty-one percent of FWS dollars went to private institutions in 2016-17, while just 16 percent of Pell Grant dollars – a program that targets low-income students – went to these same institutions. This reality demands that stakeholders place more focus in their advocacy efforts on a fairer funding formula, especially because of the FWS program’s proven benefits to low-income students.

Tuition and Fees at Public Institutions

Arguably the most intriguing data points from the College Board pricing report are the slight decreases in the average published price of tuition and fees at public institutions. To be clear, the decreases among two-year and four-year publics of 0.3 and 0.4 percent, respectively, are minuscule. And there is undoubtedly a more comprehensive picture to consider concerning college affordability. But the average price for two-year institutions has not decreased since 2008-09, and the average price of four-year institutions hasn’t gone down since at least 1990-91. Thus, this marks an unexpected and good step in the right direction for students served by NCAN members at a time when it’s hard for a vast majority of them to find truly affordable options.

Pell Grants

Figure 21A of the student aid report includes a trend line that depicts the fluctuation of the maximum Pell Grant award over the last 40 years in 2017 dollars. The graph offers both context and a word of caution for those advocating alongside NCAN to strengthen the purchasing power of the program.

While the last two appropriations cycles have resulted in moderate increases to the maximum Pell award, the program has been flat-funded in back-to-back years as recently as fiscal years 2011-12 and 2012-13, and has not been significantly increased since the Obama stimulus package in 2009-10. Ultimately, this trend line demonstrates the pattern that resulted in the dwindling of Pell’s purchasing power. In the 1970s, the maximum Pell award covered more than 75 percent of the cost of attendance at the average four-year public university. Today, the maximum award amount covers less than 30 percent of that cost.


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