State College Affordability Profiles
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NCAN members and partners know that financial barriers can prevent students from low-income backgrounds from accessing and completing a postsecondary education. To address this issue, the federal government, state governments, and many higher education institutions offer financial aid programs, but these aid dollars â€“ combined with family contributions, and student wages â€“ often aren't enough for students from limited means to cover the full cost of college attendance.

One part of the problem is the declining purchasing power of the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is federal, need-based aid that provides crucial support for more than 7 million college students each year.

At its peak in 1975-76, the maximum Pell award covered more than three-fourths of the average cost of attendance – tuition, fees, and living expenses – at a four-year public university. Today, it covers less than 30%.

Learn more about NCAN's proposals for strengthening the Pell Grant program.

So what can you do to help change the college affordability landscape for Pell Grant recipients?

Meet with your federal and state policymakers, and inform them of the affordability issues that your students face. Federal and state policymakers can both play a role in improving college affordability.

To assist you in this effort, we've created data-driven profiles that outline the state of college affordability in each of the 50 states, along with state-specific data on the Pell Grant, FAFSA completion, college enrollment, and degree attainment.

Here are some ideas for how to utilize these profiles in your advocacy work:

  • Download the profile of your state, and share it with the offices of your members of Congress and state elected officials. These data can support your advocacy with your representatives. 
  • Use the data points contained in your state's profile to draft talking points for your congressional and state legislative meetings (e.g., as part of NCAN's Virtual Advocacy Week). NCAN's data and research can supplement students' stories shared in these meetings. 

State Affordability Profiles


How does NCAN determine if a college or university is affordable for a Pell Grant recipient?

Since 2018, NCAN has proposed that a given two- or four-year public institution’s total price plus $300 for emergency expenses should not exceed the combined total of:

  1. That institution’s average federal, state, and institutional grant award.
  2. Average federal loan disbursement.
  3. The expected family contribution of the average Pell Grant recipient.
  4. An average Federal Work-Study award.
  5. The contribution of summer wages.

Put simply, an institution is affordable if:

When an institution’s total price plus $300 exceeds the sum of financial aid, family contributions, and student wages, NCAN refers to the difference between these two amounts as an “affordability gap.”

You can explore NCAN's 2020 "Growing Gap" college affordability research, and visit our interactive dashboard to explore the data and trends further.

What other advocacy resources does NCAN offer?

Lots! Explore our Advocacy Action Calendar, "Bills to Watch" legislation tracker, and more here.