Resources / Reports / The Cost of Opportunity: Student Stories of College Affordability

The Cost of Opportunity: Student Stories of College Affordability

Published May 2019
focus area Need-Based Aid

A new report from the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP) elevates students’ stories to contextualize and illuminate financial barriers to college access and success. The report, titled The Cost of Opportunity: Student Stories of College Affordability, shares the perspectives and aspirations of 17 low-income and working-class students based on interviews IHEP conducted over two semesters of their college journeys. The report identifies opportunities for policymakers and institutional leaders to support all students through completion, grounded in students’ experiences and the affordability challenges that they face.

The students featured in the report represent the diversity of today’s college-goers. Among them are Pell Grant recipients, Black, Hispanic, and multiracial students, adult students, student parents, and a veteran student. They represent different pathways to higher education and a range of educational and professional goals and ambitions. They have all made enormous sacrifices on their path to reach these goals, including working multiple jobs, working anywhere from four to over 40 hours a week, and accumulating both student loan and credit card debt.

While the featured students are located across the country, attend different types of institutions, and represent a range of life circumstances, the report reveals that many experienced similar challenges in navigating an uncertain and confusing financial aid process; paying for both the tuition and non-tuition costs associated with college; balancing the demands of school, family, and employment; making important decisions about college and program choice; and successfully transferring between institutions.

The report offers concrete, actionable steps that institutions and policymakers can take to more equitably support students, including:

  • Strengthening need-based aid;
  • Targeting financial aid funding toward the students with the greatest need; and
  • Providing greater transparency to low-income and working-class students navigating a complex higher education system.

On May 21, 2019, IHEP hosted our 2019 National Policy Summit in Washington, DC. The summit featured perspectives from the students featured in this report and federal, state, and institutional policy experts. The livestream and recording of the summit are available on IHEP’s YouTube page.