From “Weekly Updates” by Dr. Benjamin C. Withers, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education:
The costs of attending college, particularly as state spending declines and tuition increases (see “An Era of Neglect: How public colleges were crowded out, beaten up, and failed to fight back,” CHE, 3 March 2014), continues to be a national issue even as there are signs that the rate of increases has slowed. Nationally, the average cost of attending a public university grew by 270 percent from 1976 to 2005 and further 27 percent from 2008 to 2013, according to a recent report from the Lumina Foundation. This report, “Piecing Together the College Affordability Puzzle: Student Characteristics and Patterns of (Un)Affordability” (February 2014), also outlines that there have been substantial increases in unmet need for all undergraduates, with students from low-income backgrounds seeing the highest increases.
However, it is not just low-income students who have unmet financial needs that impact student persistence. A 2011 paper presented by two researchers at Indiana University, Jin Chen and Desiree Zerquera, finds that students “who fall on the lowest end financially of a broadly defined middle class” experience particular difficulties. “Unlike low-income students who usually receive obligation-free aid, middle-income students are generally directed towards unsubsidized loans, the interest of which accumulate while the student is still in school.” Among other conclusions, Chen and Zerquera observe that financial need and family income are key factors in retention:
- Financial need: For a one thousand dollar increase in unmet financial need, the odds of a student staying in or returning to higher education is about 7% lower, holding other variables at fixed values.
- Family Income: the odds of college enrollment after the initial year for a high-income student is about five times as large as that for a lower-middle income student, holding other predicators fixed at certain values.
“At the institutional level…students from these income levels need more support on campus. Many campus services target students who are from the lowest socioeconomic classes. However, these middle-lower income students were even more likely to be first generation students those their more financially needy counterparts, suggesting that perhaps these students experience difficulties in navigating the campus and might not be served as well by campus support services, requiring more outreach than might currently be given.”
See “Tuition and Fees, 1998-99 Through 2014-15” CHE (13 Nov 2014) http://chronicle.com/article/TuitionFees-1998-99/142511.