Resources / Reports / Opportunity Lost: Net Price and Equity at Public Flagship Institutions

Opportunity Lost: Net Price and Equity at Public Flagship Institutions

Published Sep 2019
focus area Need-Based Aid

Public flagship universities are often the most selective, rigorous, and well-resourced public schools in each state, and their important status and name recognition play an important role in raising the college-going aspirations of state residents. Flagships are well-positioned to promote social and economic mobility. However, increasingly high costs of attendance, declining state investment, and inadequate and poorly-targeted financial aid policies mean that too few low-income students have meaningful access to these elite institutions.

Opportunity Lost: Net Price and Equity at Public Flagship Institutions draws on data from each university’s net price calculator to assess their affordability for five prototypical college students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. While state flagships promise a high-quality, affordable path to a college degree for state residents, this analysis finds that these institutions are too expensive for most aspiring and enrolled low-income college students.

Key findings include:

  • Most flagships are not affordable for most students: Only six universities are affordable for students from low- or middle-income families, while students from high-income families can easily afford flagship prices in all fifty states;
  • Low-income students are asked to pay far more than they can afford: At some flagships, low-income students may need to cover over $80,000 beyond what they can afford over four years;
  • Many states and institutions provide financial aid to students who can already afford the cost of college: At 34 flagships, the state or institution provides financial aid to a typical high-income students who comes from a household earning over $167,000 per year; and
  • At the most affordable institutions, access remains a problem: Of the most affordable institutions for low-income students, many enroll very few low-income students.

The report offers actionable recommendations for institutional and state leaders to promote affordability and equity at state flagship institutions.

This report builds on IHEP’s 2017 report, Limited Means, Limited Options: College Remains Unaffordable for Many Americans, which assessed the affordability of over 2,000 American colleges and universities and found that only one to five percent of institutions were affordable for low-income, working-class, and middle-income students.

Readers are encouraged to learn more about access and affordability at their state flagship university by exploring our interactive data dashboard.