Many of us working with students in the college search and selection process struggle to help families understand college affordability. While most students will not pay the full cost of attendance, many will use sticker price to eliminate colleges from their list before they have the chance to weigh financial aid packages and scholarship offers.
What are best practices in talking to students and families about financial aid, student debt, and fit and finances? How do we best explain longer-term benefits beyond financial gain, inherent in the value of higher education, to high school juniors and seniors? How do we address the value of borrowing for college?
NACAC’s Current Trends and Future Issues Committee (CTFI) has explored these questions and related challenges over the past two years. While there are many issues we could choose to tackle, college affordability affects so many college-bound students and, therefore, the membership of NACAC, that we have felt it deserving of extended examination and discussion.
This February the committee had the good fortune to hear from Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the Urban Institute and professor emerita of economics at Skidmore College (NY). Baum is one of the primary architects and authors of a new website, launched by the Urban Institute, aimed at probing the topic of college affordability. At the core of their project is the question, “What does affordability actually mean?” To address this question, the website offers a wealth of data and information about the contributing issues students face when exploring how to afford college.
As a chief enrollment officer, I can see great potential to use the site’s rich data to help staff members better comprehend challenges related to affordability. Similarly, the site serves as a powerful resource to enhance the understanding of campus leadership and trustees. Data on demographics, income levels, saving patterns, student debt, tuition and fee trends, and other relevant cost-related topics—presented in a cogent, easily digestible format—make the Urban Institute site a “must review” tool for enrollment professionals seeking to contribute to the critical discussion about student access. The research and analysis found on the site will add depth to the already robust conversations taking place around these issues at NACAC member institutions.
For more resources to help students and families navigate this topic, visit NACAC’s Paying for College webpage in the Knowledge Center. I hope we will all take advantage of these tools to maximize the impact on our individual and collaborative educational efforts to address one of the most critical issues facing our students today.
Stefanie Niles, Ed.D., Vice President for Enrollment, Marketing, and Communications at Dickinson College (PA), is a member of NACAC’s Current Trends and Future Issues Committee.