NCAN Publications

NCAN Publications

The Growing Gap: Public Higher Education's Declining Affordability for Low-Income Students

May 2019

Affordability is decreasing at two- and four-year public institutions, whose mission is to provide a postsecondary pathway to benefit individuals and the public at large. In 2016-17, just 48% of community colleges in our sample were affordable for the average Pell Grant recipient. Only 27% of four-year public institutions were affordable.

In addition to the report, our interactive Growing Gap dashboard allows you to dive into affordability data at the national, state, and institutional levels. How does your state stack up when it comes to college affordability for Pell Grant recipients?

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Recent Publications


Updated State Policy Toolkit (January 2019)

This toolkit will help NCAN members and partners grow their state-level advocacy work. Each policy issue it contains is derived from NCAN’s Model State Policy Agenda and is categorized under affordability or talent development.


White Paper: FAFSA Verification: Good Government or Red Tape? (November 2018)

This paper outlines what verification is and how the process impacts students. We also offer policy recommendations to lessen the negative effects of verification and help more students access aid.


An Analysis of the Relationship Between School District Poverty and FAFSA Completion, June 2016-2018 (October 2018)

In most states, school districts with higher rates of children living in poverty have lower FAFSA completion rates.


White Paper: Shutting Low-Income Students Out of Public Four-Year Higher Education (May 2018)

An astounding 75% of residential four-year institutions – including 90% of flagship institutions – failed our affordability test for the average Pell Grant recipient.


Model State Policy Agenda (January 2018)

Our Model State Policy Agenda aims to provide NCAN members and partners, particularly those in networks or coalitions, with a guide to develop their own policy goals.


Moving the Needle on FAFSA Completion (October 2017)

This report discusses how changes to federal financial-aid policy can broaden access to higher education.


Publication Archive


College Access and Success Strategies That Promote Early Awareness in Middle-Level Grades (July 2017)

This white paper offers guidance on how to equitably design CSAs, early commitment scholarships, place-based promise programs, and informational campaigns to best serve low-income populations of families with middle-grade students.


An Analysis of the Relationship Between School District Poverty and FAFSA Completion in June 2016 and June 2017 (October 2017)

This report takes a closer look at school district FAFSA completion rates and how they are related to district-level poverty rates across and within states.


Increasing FAFSA Completion Among Low-Income Students: Lessons From Four States That Are Doing It Well (August 2017)

This qualitative study analyzes FAFSA completion initiatives within California, Minnesota, Nevada, and Utah.


NCAN-Member Pulse Check: FAFSA Verification Flexibility (July 2017)

Verification alternatives made the FAFSA 2017-18 verification process easier and faster for students who were able to take advantage of them, according to 87 college access professionals from NCAN member organizations.


Half the FAFSA: Cutting the Red Tape to Postsecondary Study Aid (January 2017)

This report outlines one possible FAFSA simplification effort, its costs, and the results of experimental user-testing.


Working with Students

White Paper: Connecting College and Career Success: Lessons on Advising, Data and Partnerships (June 2017) 

In 2017, NCAN's annual Spring Training series focused on connecting career success with NCAN members’ college access and success services. This white paper focuses on the lessons learned from this training series.


Idea Incubator Series
In an effort to further this kind of transfer of ideas, NCAN, in the summer of 2016, hosted a series of four Idea Incubators across the country. These Incubators brought members together to tackle tough questions in data and evaluation.

Managing the Database Lifecycle and Ensuring Quality Data
Incorporating Fit and Match Into College Advising and Program Data


Financial Aid Eligibility Mindsets Among Low-Income Students: Why Do Some Believe They Can't Receive Financial Aid for College? (October 2016)

Previous research has suggested that most students who do not apply for financial aid do not think they are eligible. However, our research told a different story. In general, participants who did not apply for financial aid lacked information about their eligibility.


What Does the Research Say about Early Awareness Strategies for College Access and Success? (March 2016)

This report explores the published literature on early awareness strategies for college-going. Given that published literature on this subject is sparse, it also includes internal evaluations and program-reported data.


Supporting Best Practices in Student Success: Lessons from the Field (July 2013)

Access to college holds little value for students if they do not stay enrolled and complete a college credential. With a grant from TG Philanthropy, NCAN assisted four member organizations in establishing or expanding programs to support students during college.


Preparing to Dream: A College Access and Success Initiative Uniting Five Houston-Area School Districts (January 2013)

Preparing to Dream, a four-year initiative (2007-2011) funded by the Houston Endowment, built a college-going culture in five Houston-area school districts.


Using Data and Inquiry to Build Equity-Focused College Going Cultures (September 2011)

The Student Success Toolkit Demonstration Project helped teams of school-based practitioners heighten their awareness of inequities in the rates of college-preparedness and college-going among their students at two Boston high schools.


NCAN Member Program Benchmarking Project

The Benchmarking Project is helping NCAN learn more about the postsecondary enrollment and graduation rates of students served by our members.

Benchmarking Project Round 1
Benchmarking Project Round 2
Benchmarking Project Round 3
Benchmarking Project Round 4
Benchmarking Project Round 5



White Paper: The Surprising Way Community Foundations Can Transform Students' Lives and Delight Donors (May 2017) 

This white paper outlines steps community foundations can take to reach maximum effectiveness and impact with their scholarship funds.



Become a Member

As an NCAN member, you'll be part of a growing network of more than 450 college access and success professionals and organizations. Together, we can help more students navigate the path to and through postsecondary education.