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The College Cash Crunch

by Scott Bittle

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

College tuition continues to rise, but this year student aid went up as well, according to the latest figures from the College Board. While the extra $10 billion in federal aid will certainly help, no one seems to think this is a shift in the long-term trends - the "squeeze play" feeling many Americans get when it comes to college costs.

There are two colliding trends in public attitudes on college costs: the public feels a college education has become more and more necessary for success in life, even as they believe the cost of college is further and further out of reach.

Those trends may be feeding skepticism among the public that colleges aren't doing all they can to control costs. Public Agenda's most recent "Squeeze Play" survey found 6 in 10 Americans agree that "colleges could take a lot more students without lowering quality or raising prices." Over half (54 percent) say that "colleges could spend less and still maintain a high quality of education."

It's also important to remember that many students - particularly the ones who have trouble completing college - are paying their own way and may not even be eligible for aid. Our With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them survey found about 7 in 10 of those who leave school report that they did not have scholarships or financial aid, compared with about 4 in 10 of those who graduate.

These trends make it all the more important for colleges to engage stakeholders in how to address cost and productivity. Engagement is critical to making progress on these challenges, and our report, Changing the Conversation About Productivity, examines ways colleges can bring faculty and other stakeholders together effectively. We also recommend Boosting Community College Success, our web page with tools for public engagement and other resources for educators, communities, parents and students.





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