A (Barely) Passing Grade

by Debbie Frankle Cochrane, Research Analyst

This morning, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education released their fifth biennial Measuring Up reports. This series details how well individual states are doing on important performance measures including preparation, participation, affordability, completion, benefits, and learning.

By Measuring Up’s standards, California received the highest grade (C-minus) in the nation for college affordability. In fact, it received the only non-failing grade in this category. Because of the way this category is measured, California has always performed relatively well: low fees at community colleges help the state appear more affordable than it is for many students.

This (barely) passing grade should not be overblown, as the report also points out that the affordability of California colleges is declining. For every federal dollar that goes to Californians in grant aid, the state itself puts in only 56 cents, relatively little of which goes to community college students. When considering total costs and taking financial aid into account, the lowest income students still need 58% of their family income to afford to attend a California community college. Thanks to higher amounts of financial aid available to them, those same students would need slightly less – 57% of family income – to attend a public four-year college in the state. So how exactly are community colleges the affordable college option?

Low fees are only part of the affordability puzzle. To stay afloat, California needs to increase its commitment to college affordability by increasing grant aid – which can cover all related costs, not just tuition and fees – for the students who need it most.

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