Affordable Higher Education

A college degree is practically a necessity these days, not only for the individual student, but for the economic and social health of the country. But as states cut budgets, and grant aid has diminished, students are relying on loans to pay for college.

It has not always been this way. Twelve years ago only one-third of college graduates from four year public colleges needed to borrow money to attain a college degree and graduates who borrowed carried around $12,000 of debt on average. Today more than two-thirds of graduates have federal student loan debt and carry over $23,000 on average. The percentage of students with $25,000 worth of private student loan debt has increased, from 5% in 1996 to 24% in 2008. 

Relying on student loans to pay for college can have negative consequences. Too much loan debt causes qualified students to opt out of college completely; it causes current students to work too much and study less, and it causes borrowers who’ve graduated to opt out of socially valuable careers, and to delay life milestones like buying a home or getting married.

More and more students are moving beyond financial aid to finance their degrees with private student loans.  Private loans are much riskier, bringing applicants in with low advertised interest rates but spitting them out with higher interest rates and record debt levels.

A college degree must remain within reach for families of modest means, and affordable over the long term for the borrowers and parents in repayment. We work to increase student grant aid, make debt levels more manageable, and protect students as consumers from practices that contribute to educational debt.  

We need robust grant programs on a state and federal level, a simpler system of student aid that actively encourages student and parental participation, and stronger safeguards for student borrowers in repayment.  

Also, we can lower student debt by protecting student consumers. College students pay unjustifiably high amounts for college textbooks each year. And those who rely on credit and debit cards to help offset day to day costs of education, or to access their financial aid disbursements, can get slapped with penalty fees and terms that take advantage of them.

Issue updates

Report | Student PIRGs, Demos, United States Student Association | Higher Ed

Subpriming Our Students

New Briefing Paper Says College Students Need Consumer Financial Protection Agency to ‘Watchdog’ Risky Loans.

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Course Correction

The Student PIRGs conducted this study to determine how digital textbooks can live up to their potential as a solution.  Through a survey of 504 students from Oregon and Illinois and 50 commonly assigned textbook titles, we confirm three fundamental criteria – affordability, printing options, and accessibility.  We found that publishers’ digital “e-textbooks” fail to meet these criteria, and that an emerging form of digital textbooks – open textbooks – are a perfect match. (August 2008)

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News Release | Higher Ed, Textbooks

Congress Moves to Cut Textbook Costs in Landmark Bill

Marking the first major federal action to curb the skyrocketing cost of college textbooks, Congress approved legislation today that will bring down prices for millions of students.

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Report | Higher Ed

Cutting Interest Rates, Lowering Student Debt - Updated

In 2007 Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. The bill included several provisions to lessen the burden of student debt including:

  • More than two billion dollars a year in additional funding for the Pell Grant program. The Pell Grant helps more than 5 million lower-income students each year.
  • A new Income-Based Repayment program that allows student loan borrowers to repay their federal loans as a percentage of their income. 
  • Reductions in interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans.
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Ripoff 101: 2nd Edition

In order to both confirm our initial findings and to follow up on a number of anecdotal reports of additional problems with textbook pricing, the State PIRGs conducted an expanded survey of the most widely purchased textbooks at 59 colleges and universities across the country. (February 2005)

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