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).
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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’