Blog Post | August 3, 2020

Diving Deeper into College Affordability Gaps in California: Introducing A New Blog Series and Interactive Data Feature

Author: Ana Fung

In case you missed it, last week TICAS released a new brief, What College Costs for Low-Income Californians: 2020, highlighting the role that grant aid plays in the net prices that low-income Californians have to pay out of pocket at University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and California Community College (CCC) campuses across nine regions. Whereas our two previous analyses of this issue were limited to examining how much it costs for students to live off-campus independently – the way the majority of California’s college students reside – this year’s brief assesses the net prices for all three federally defined living arrangements: on campus, off-campus with family, and off-campus independently.

To visualize the multiple layers of data – segment, region, and living arrangement – in this year’s analysis we created an online interactive chart via Tableau, which can be accessed here and below. For the best effect, click the full-screen button on the bottom-right corner of the chart.

The data are grouped into nine panels that represent the geographic regions of the institutions in our study, and each panel is divided into columns that organize the data by the three public college segments: UC, CSU, and CCC. By hovering the cursor over any colored circle in a column, the chart will display the living arrangement, institution name, net cost to attend, and the number of hours low-income students would need to work each week to cover that cost.

The highlighter tool to the right of the chart can be used to create more distinction among the different living arrangements; to use, click on the text box and select an option to highlight. This tool is particularly useful in elucidating the UC data points, as it may seem that there is only one living arrangement when in fact at this segment net price does not vary based on where a student resides.

Certain elements of the chart can also be temporarily excluded or emphasized. For example, with a single click on the blue circle in the CCC column under the Berkeley region, the chart will then display options to keep, exclude, and view that data point. This feature also applies to the region and segment axes; click on any label of the regions or segments to see the options. To go back to the original chart, click the reset button (an arrow pointing left to a vertical line) at the bottom-right corner of the chart.

When the living arrangements are examined individually, students who live on campus and off-campus independently typically face lower net prices at UCs than the other two public segments, but, for students who have the ability to live with family, it often costs more to attend UC than other colleges.  Despite their lower tuition, the community colleges rarely have the lowest net prices across any of the living statuses. Across all public college types, the work hours needed for low-income students to cover net prices is mostly unmanageable. Addressing affordability gaps among low-income and underrepresented students across the public college segments will be especially critical in protecting the financial wellbeing of students during COVID-19 and its attendant recession; we hope that our report and this new, interactive chart help to deepen the current understanding of persisting college affordability challenges in California.

This is the first post in a blog series on our updated analysis, which will be followed by others including a focus on more deeply exploring equity concerns raised in the brief.