New Policy Brief Highlights College Access and Affordability Issues
In conjunction with its Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill today, NCTC released its latest brief on higher education, Strengthening Higher Education Access & Affordability. The brief lays out the broad spectrum of issues and challenges facing students today. With our economy continuing to struggle on its way to recovery, it is increasingly important that we ensure new workers are trained to meet the demands of the job market before them.
For many, this means some form of postsecondary education is necessary to ensure they’ll be able to join our skilled workforce. Unfortunately, this also means these students and their families will need to find ways to bear the substantial costs of achieving their educational goals. For many low- and moderate-income families, the sticker shock of obtaining a college degree prevents any serious thinking that higher education is even remotely accessible.
There is no single solution to ensuring full and fair access to postsecondary education options. In this brief, NCTC asks policymakers to focus their attention on four key areas that span the cycle of college planning, attendance and payment to guarantee a full slate of educational options are open to all families:
- College Savings – As costs for two- and four-year colleges continue to rise, it is ever more important for families to begin planning for their children’s higher education through savings. Unfortunately, for low-income families who often have little to no savings and are practically living paycheck to paycheck, even the thriftiest savers will barely make a dent in their future college attendance costs. The brief explores options for policymakers to incent and support low- and moderate-income families’ financially wise decisions to save, including enhancements to 529 plans, matched savings opportunities and other alternative routes available for low-cost savings.
- Financial Aid – Traditional federal student aid programs remain the major route by which low- and moderate-income families can pursue higher education. However, the challenges of accessing aid in the form of grants and low-cost federal loans continues to be a significant barrier to receiving a beneficial and supportive award. Beyond calls for simplifying the overall Free Application for Federal Student Aid process, the brief focuses on two significant projects that aim to break down this barrier: NCTC’s Financial Aid U Initiative and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Know Before You Owe” campaign.
- Tax-Based Support – In our current economic situation, students and families need all the help they can get to cover the costs of higher education. The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) recognizes this need, especially for low- and moderate-income families, who are able to take advantage of the refundable portion of the credit to help cover tuition, fees and other qualified educational expenses. Currently, the AOTC is set to expire and revert back to the Hope Credit at the end of 2012; its partial refundability is scheduled to end simultaneously. Though this credit is certainly not perfect, the brief proposes that – in the short run – the AOTC should be preserved. NCTC’s report further directs policymakers to explore new ways to reform higher education tax credits into more beneficial and targeted benefits for low- and moderate-income families, including a credit proposal put forth by NCTC in our May 2011 higher education policy brief.
- Aid Repayment and Post-Degree Financing – Federal student loans are an important piece of the overall college-affordability package for most students, and one on which students increasingly rely. But we cannot ignore the looming “debt bomb” that awaits our economy if we don’t begin dealing with the now more than $1 trillion worth of student debt that’s been amassed by borrowers. This brief provides options to consider even in the worst-case scenario – bankruptcy – for student borrowers to climb out of their debt piles while not shirking in their duties to repay the vast majority of their loans.
For more information, questions or comments on this brief, please contact Holden Weisman, Policy Analyst, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Holden Weisman, Policy Analyst