“Degrees of Debt: What to Do About Rising College Debt in Texas” is a three-part data series by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. Part 3/3
Part 1: Why Is Texas Investing Less and Expecting Better College Graduation Rates?
Part 2: Don’t Forget Financial Aid for Non-Traditional Students
Postsecondary education is critical for driving prosperity for all Texas families. But the cost of
As costs rise and students are unable to finish their postsecondary education, affording college has become a major challenge for all groups of students. It’s critical that we invest in higher education access now to ensure prosperity for all Texans in the future.
Increasing tuition is a major driver of college and
university affordability, but tuition makes up only about a third of college
and university attendance costs.[i]
The remaining expenses — shelter, food, books, and other school supplies — make
up the majority of students’ cost of attendance.
To pay for college, Texas students use a complex recipe of funding sources each year. Beyond what they contribute from their own savings and earnings, students must also seek federal aid, state aid, campus aid, loans and other types of support such as work-study programs.
After students exhaust all of these resources, most low and moderate-income Texans are still unable to cover the full cost of their education. Students cover their remaining expenses – the college and university funding gap, or the unmet need –by working part-time and making difficult decisions to do without necessities such as food, books, and housing.
The amount of unmet need Texas students face has risen significantly along with tuition prices. Between 2008 and 2016, unmet need for middle-income Texans increased by nearly $3,000 for those receiving state aid and by about $4,000 for those without state aid[ii]. So, while aid has increased in dollar amounts in tandem with
In order to earn enough to cover their unmet need, a
High unmet need has significant consequences on student outcomes. Research has shown that students with greater unmet need are less likely to complete their education. Other research, however, shows that students in the lowest income brackets are most likely to see graduation rate improvements when they can meet all their financial need. This illuminates just how critical adequate student financial support is, especially to students most in need.
Even after exhausting all resources available and working
more hours than what experts recommend, Texas students are still going without
critical necessities or being pushed out of higher education altogether. As
Texas approaches 2030 – with a stated goal of 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 having
a post-secondary credential – it is critical for the state to revisit decisions
that have led to the sharp decline in higher education investment. Texas needs to
deepen its investment in students, not only to cover tuition, but for the
additional costs that make up the largest part of a student’s postsecondary
[i] Goldrick-Rab, S. (2016). Paying the Price: College costs, financial aid, and the betrayal of the American Dream. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
[ii] The tuition and fee data included here are the amounts reported as net tuition and fees in the Sources and Uses Reports from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and in 2016 dollars.