Campaign 2020

Message to 2020 Presidential Candidates

Download Recommendations Memo

The next president of the United States has an unprecedented opportunity to respond to the complexities of paying for a college education. Our nation needs 60% of adults to hold a high-quality degree or credential by 2025 to ensure a well-educated workforce that is prepared to take on the jobs of tomorrow. Filling these jobs benefits both the individual and society. 

College graduates earn significantly more over their lifetime than those with only a high school education. In addition to higher future earnings, college graduates have lower unemployment rates. Individuals without a college degree were most likely to be laid off during the Great Recession. College degree attainment is essential to turning around the economic fortunes of many low-income individuals in this country. However, these long-term benefits are being lost in the conversation about higher education, overshadowed by the increasing prospect of student debt. In short, the cost of college is driving individuals away from pursuing postsecondary education. 

Students who are attempting to pay for college are faced with a financial aid application form of over 100 questions and the prospect – nearly 1 in 2 for Pell grant recipients – of going through a tedious process to confirm the accuracy of the information they submit. Once a student gets through the verification process, they encounter a confusing web of college aid offers. These aid offers are filled with jargon, which can unintentionally mislead students about whether aid has to be repaid (grants vs. loans), and what is the true, complete cost to attend a school. And those students from low-income backgrounds who complete the verification process are faced with this: the Pell Grant’s purchasing power is at a lifetime low for public institutions. In the late 1970s, the Pell Grant funded over 75% of a public college bachelor’s degree, but now it covers less than 30% (which amounts to less than the cost of tuition and fees). 

These are real challenges our students are facing today. In fact, American voters agree these problems are key issues to be addressed, with 86% saying it is important for Congress to tackle the cost of college. 

NCAN members know that low-income students who apply for financial aid and receive federal grants are much more likely to enroll in and complete postsecondary education. But fully close the attainment gap between students from low-income families and their upper-income peers, we need equitable, practical solutions to make higher education more affordable.

This memorandum provides recommendations to respond to these challenges faced by our nation’s current and prospective college students. We welcome the opportunity to discuss any of these recommendations with any presidential campaign.

Carrie Warick
Director of Policy and Advocacy, NCAN
202-347-4848 ext. 203