Higher Education State Funding Trends and Policies on Affordability

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United States Government Accountability Office (GAO)


There is widespread concern that the rising costs of higher education are making college unaffordable for many students and their families. Federal and state support is central to promoting college affordability; however, persistent state budget constraints have limited funding for public colleges. GAO was asked to study state policies affecting affordability and identify approaches to encourage states to make college more affordable. This report examines, among other things, how state financial support and tuition have changed at public colleges over the past decade. It also examines how the federal government works with states to improve college affordability and what additional approaches are available for doing so. In conducting this work, GAO analyzed trends in state funding for public colleges, tuition, and state student aid using data from the U.S. Department of Education for all public sector colleges from fiscal years 2003 through 2012, the most recent data available at the time of this study. GAO also identified academic studies on state higher education policies and affordability published since 2011 and interviewed 25 academic experts and organizations in the fields of higher education or state policy. Finally, GAO reviewed Education programs and proposals and obtained perspectives from experts and organizations to identify approaches the federal government could use to incentivize state action.



Public college funding, student financial aid, education--higher, college affordability