Enrichment Education

Half in new poll say in-state, public universities not affordable

A large majority of U.S. adults feel they would be unable to afford a college education.

Story at a glance

  • New results of a Morning Consult poll found 52 percent of Americans consider undergraduate educations at in-state public universities unaffordable.

  • In the past, public institutions were seen as a more affordable option compared with private ones, especially for in-state applicants.

  • More women than men consider a college education unaffordable and are more likely to have higher debt upon graduation than their male counterparts.

A new Morning Consult poll found 77 percent of adult Americans consider a college degree difficult to afford, while over half say the same about an undergraduate education at an in-state public institution.

Responses are based on a survey of 4,420 U.S. adults conducted in August 2022. 

Although in-state and public higher education institutions have historically been considered cheaper than private ones, shifting trends in enrollment may have contributed to state schools becoming financially out of reach, Morning Consult found. 

Specifically, more out-of-state students are attending state schools, and these individuals tend to pay higher tuition rates than in-state students. Decreases in state funding for these institutions could also play a role in higher tuition rates.

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Research has shown that while private schools are more expensive on average, public colleges experienced the most rapid net tuition inflation in recent years. Despite this, the majority of respondents believed for-profit private universities are the most unaffordable. 

Average yearly tuition is around $10,000 at an in-state public school. Between 2009 and 2015, the average American’s student loan debt increased by $5,500. Apart from tuition, costs of books, housing and food can also add up.

The survey results come amid a worsening of the student debt crisis that’s been linked with borrowers’ poor mental health.

More women said obtaining a college degree was unaffordable compared with men (82 vs 73 percent, respectively). Around 80 percent of Black, Hispanic and white respondents said college would be difficult to afford. 

“Women on average finance more of their education and then make less when they graduate,” authors wrote, adding students of color and those from low-income backgrounds are more likely to be negatively impacted by high tuition prices.

Community and two-year colleges were perceived as the most affordable higher education option among respondents, followed by vocational training or other professional certification programs.

Similar proportions of adults felt not-for-profit private universities and out-of-state undergraduate programs were equally unaffordable. 

To help address the unaffordability of higher education the Institute for Higher Education Policy recommends doubling the maximum awarded by the Pell Grant, a financial aid opportunity reserved for those most in need. 

Barring certain circumstances, a federal Pell Grant does not need to be repaid, and the maximum an applicant could receive for the 2022–23 school year was $6,895. 

Nearly 60 percent of Black, half of Indigenous and nearly half of Hispanic or Latino students currently utilize the grants, which cover less than one-third of the cost of attending a public four-year college. 

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