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Non-Tuition Costs Make College Unaffordable

College brochures often note the cost of attending the school, but this number often understates the true cost of attendance. This is because the calculations seldom account for non-tuition expenses such as housing, books, supplies, childcare, and transportation. Research suggests non-tuition costs account for two-thirds or more of the total college costs. And over the years, increases in college prices have far outstripped increases in grant aid, all while real family income has largely declined. Combine these factors with a global pandemic and you have the perfect storm for making college even less affordable.

COVID-19 Is Worsening the College Affordability Crisis 

In a newly released survey, the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS)—a recipient of a Michelson 20MM Spark Grant—presents findings on how the pandemic has impacted students’ ability to afford college. Conducted among 875 students from across all higher education sectors in California, the study reveals that pandemic-related budget changes, and non-tuition costs in particular, have impacted students’ academic plans, making it more difficult for many students to even stay enrolled in school. According to the research: 

  • 53% of students reported declines in income during the pandemic.
  • 19% of students reported increasing expenses, and, of these, 6 in 10 reported decreasing incomes.
  • 24% of students reported spending more on textbooks and supplies since the start of the pandemic, and, of these, 55% said that the rise in textbook costs made it harder to stay enrolled. 
  • 66% of community college students, 37% of CSU students, and 44 % of UC students found the increase in textbooks and supplies costs particularly burdensome. 
  • 52% of Latinx students and 55% of Black students reported increased indicators of food insecurity. 
  • 30% of Latinx students, 32% of Filipino students, and 49% of Black students reported missing a rent, mortgage, or utility payment. 
  • 59% of students expect to receive their degree later than planned as a result of the pandemic’s impact on their budget. 

The Work Ahead

TICAS has worked for over a decade to put college affordability challenges on the map, turning long-held assumptions about college costs on their heads and driving a bold agenda towards student-centered reform. They have documented how affordability challenges in California translate into lower college completion rates and higher student debts for low-income students and students of color. Their valuable research helps researchers, advocates, and policymakers address and approach the full costs of college as an issue of equity. Michelson 20MM is proud to support TICAS and will help leverage the results from this survey to educate and inform legislators on college affordability. Results of the TICAS survey can be found here.