Widen the Focus When Discussing Affordability

The California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) recently took a look at how affordable a community college education really is for students and their families. The Institute for College Access & Success submitted the following comment to the Commission prior to their September 23-24 meeting, where the report was discussed.

Commissioners: The Institute for College Access & Success conducts research and advocacy geared toward helping students access and succeed in college, regardless of income or background. A primary focus of the Institute is looking at college affordability issues within California, and for community college students specifically. We would like to commend the Commission for looking at this issue, which is rarely addressed in a broader context than the system's low fee levels. The report brings much needed attention to the fact that a CCC education is less affordable than it used to be, and that the problem is worst for the lowest-income students and families. We are concerned that the Commission's analysis of California community college affordability is too narrow. By focusing only on students who live with their parents, the analysis excludes the majority of students enrolled in the colleges, including four out of every ten full-time students. Also, the definition of "minimum costs" used throughout the report dramatically underestimates the costs that students face, or what the institutions themselves tell students about college costs. Using such a narrow focus minimizes the extent of the affordability problem at the community colleges. Financial aid is a crucial element in looking at college costs, and we are glad that the issue was broached in this analysis. By looking only briefly at grant aid amounts for students who receive it, and in tandem with the Commission's definition of "minimum costs", this again undercuts the true scope of affordability challenges for community college students. Specifically, the Commission's analysis failed to mention how relatively few community college students receive Cal Grants, the state's own need-based aid program, and how Cal Grant award levels have stagnated, worsening affordability issues even for the lucky recipients. We would welcome an opportunity to discuss these issues and concerns around community college affordability with Commissioners or Commission staff. Sincerely, Debbie Frankle Cochrane Research Analyst Robert Shireman President

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