Policy Experts Discuss Future College Affordability at Century Foundation Gathering

Thursday, September 27, 2018
Policy Experts Discuss Future College Affordability at Century Foundation Gathering
Foremost among the numerous challenges facing higher education is affordability, particularly disparities and inequities affecting Black and lower-income students who seek to enter college, graduate and pay back significant loan debt.
That was a recurring theme during “Higher Ed 2020: College Affordability Ideas for the Next Congress and Beyond,” an event hosted by The Century Foundation that brought policy experts together Wednesday at New York University’s D.C. campus. Panelists and speakers discussed reforms that could be enacted by the next Congress and beyond – including revisions when the Higher Education Act is reauthorized – to make college more accessible and affordable.
“One of the myths about higher education is that it’s the great equalizer, but it’s really not,” said Dr. Amy Li, speaking on a panel titled “Goals for the Next Big Thing in College Affordability.”
Li, an assistant professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership at the University of Northern Colorado, was referring to racial disparities in wealth and college completion and their effects on ability to repay student loans.
Discussions of so-called “free college” and promise programs must take such disparities into consideration in their rationale and formulation, Li added, noting that many states structure such programs in a way that ends up benefiting middle-income and upper-income families more than lower-income families, who need such aid most.
“They are financial aid repackaged and rebranded and styled into something that is politically popular,” said Li, who studies student loan debt. “They have the potential to increase equity and decrease disparities,” she added, and also noted the need to be reexamined in light of the reality that many students most challenged in repaying student loans often have the smallest loan amounts and did not finish school.
That’s disproportionately true among Black students, who generally have much less family wealth, much more educational loan debt and higher default rates than their White counterparts, research data has shown.
“Racial wealth gaps necessitate income-driven policies,” Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research at Demos, said during a panel discussion on frameworks for federal solutions...
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