Press Release/Statement | April 18, 2023

New Report Explores How Policymakers Can “Pave the Path to Debt-Free College”

Washington – Today, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) reaffirmed its stance on creating a more affordable higher education system with its release of “Paving the Path to Debt-Free College,” a new compendium of papers from leading researchers that examines how policymakers can make debt-free college a reality for all students.

A college degree remains a strong investment for most Americans, but college costs remain high enough that most students cannot enroll without taking on debt,” said Sameer Gadkaree, president of TICAS. “For decades, state funding has declined for public colleges and universities — which enroll more than three-quarters of undergraduates nationwide — and colleges have turned to tuition and fees to make up the gap.”

Today, in order to cover the average cost of attending a four-year public college, students from families making $30,000 or less would need to spend 93 percent — nearly all — of their total family income, according to TICAS’s analysis of College Board data. To cover the cost of a two-year college, these students would need to spend nearly two-thirds of their family’s total income. At the same time, grant aid — including the federal Pell Grant — has not kept up with rising costs. Taken together, these trends mean that the average debt held by bachelor’s degree recipients grew by about 56 percent over a 15-year period, well outpacing inflation.

Amid the various efforts to address the ongoing crisis of high costs, high debt burdens, and decreasing confidence in the value of higher education, TICAS commissioned leading academics in the higher education space to contribute to the compendium with the goal of informing the policy conversation about how to implement effective, equitable, and sustainable solutions to tackle the college affordability crisis.

“To build a debt-free future for all students, the federal government and states must work together,” Gadkaree said. “We hope this compendium will guide policymakers as they work to address the root causes of the student debt crisis by lowering college costs and providing sufficient grant aid so that students do not need to take on unmanageable debt to earn a degree.”

Collectively, the papers outline the current college financing landscape, discuss potential policy options for reducing reliance on debt, and examine specific components that could be addressed as part of a larger federal-state funding partnership to achieve debt-free college for all students across the country.