College Affordability

College Affordability

A student should pay 10 percent of disposable income for 10 years and earnings from 10 hours of work every week while in school to cover college expenses.

Across the political spectrum, there is widespread concern that the rising price of college requires immediate action. Students and families have shouldered an increasing burden by paying higher tuition and fees and, in many cases, taking on more debt when tuition and living expenses are too high, and family savings are inadequate.

That is why Lumina worked with affordability experts from healthcare and housing to develop a “Rule of 10” that estimates what students should be expected to contribute. We use this model to help policymakers consider options for reducing financial barriers to education after high school.

Although students, parents, and policymakers know that we face major challenges in addressing college affordability, we found no common definition of what’s “affordable.” Defining affordability in terms of how much students should be expected to contribute toward their education is just a first step. Only then can higher education leaders and state and federal policymakers determine the extent of the problem and assess which policy proposals can make college truly affordable for today’s students.

The rising expense of college is among the reasons enrollment has declined over time.

More on College Affordability

Changing the narrative on borrowers of color

Stark differences by race and ethnicity in student borrowing trends are well known, but real progress depends on setting up a different conversation. Dr. Amanda Tachine and Amanda Martinez offer insights on how we can better understand the experiences of Native and Latino student loan borrowers. Co-host Dr. Katherine Wheatle dives deep into truths v. tropes of borrowers of color. Learn more by visiting here.

Knowing the numbers on student borrowers of color doesn’t mean you understand the problem.

Anyone who pays attention to higher education policy should know by now the outsized debt burdens shouldered by Black, Hispanic or Latino, and Native American students. And yet we haven’t yet moved from admiring the problem to implementing solutions, in part because the space has been dominated by white policy experts (who are, frankly, like me).

Higher education’s $50 billion problem

At a time when society needs it more than ever, higher education in the United States is in crisis.     Costs to students and their families continue to rise, states are questioning their level of investment, quality is eroding, racial attainment gaps are increasing, operating deficits at the institution level are accelerating, schools are closing, and the nagging crack in the reputation of the post-high school education system widening.

A different kind of college rankings tell us a lot about the true value of higher ed

As headlines about higher education go, this has to be one of the most clever: “Highbrow Robbery: The Colleges Call It Tuition, We Call It Plunder.” The opening line was: “Everybody seems to agree these days that college costs too much.” The date of the story, from one of my back issues of the excellent Washington Monthly magazine: 1983.

From a former higher-ed finance leader with three daughters in college: Here’s why I’m optimistic

For all who care about higher ed, it’s hard to imagine a worse set of health and economic challenges than what we face today. But there’s also room for optimism about how we might emerge with an education system that serves everyone better. Here are the three rays of hope – call them opportunities, maybe – that I see amid the gloom.
U.S. Department of Education suite of tools

College Affordability and Transparency Center

The U.S. Department of Education offers information here about the cost of going to specific colleges, how fast costs are rising, and why costs are going up. 

College Affordability and Transparency Center (
6 web tools operated by tiny little stick figures
Colored pencil drawing of two school buildings
A game of college

A Game of College

Can you get into college, finish a bachelor’s degree program, and avoid borrowing too much? Find out with this interactive game designed by The Hechinger Report and CalMatters.

A Game of College
Inside Higher Ed

Fewer Affordable Options for Pell Grant Students

Fewer than a quarter of public four-year institutions, and only 40 percent of community colleges, meet a college access group’s definition of affordability.

College affordability trends moving in ‘wrong direction’