Heather Lattimer: Double Pell

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The cost of a college education has never been higher and what to do about it is a major national public policy issue. Dean Heather Lattimer has this Perspective.

Throughout the Bay Area high school seniors are finalizing their college decisions. This can be a joyous time of year. But for many, the decision is not where to go to college, but whether or not they can afford college at all.

Over the past 50 years, the cost of college has increased significantly and financial aid has not kept pace. In 1970, federal Pell grants covered more than 75% of the cost of attending a public university. In 2021, they cover just 28%. In 1970, students graduated with an average student loan debt of less than $1000. Today, that number is more than $30,000.

In California, we are fortunate to have excellent public university systems that provide high quality, accessible educational opportunities. Full time tuition at most CSU campuses is less than $8000 per year, a fraction of what private universities cost to attend. But even at that relatively low rate, many students struggle to afford tuition and living expenses.

The pandemic has exacerbated these struggles and had a disproportionate impact on our Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian Pacific Islander and adult students. Over the past year I’ve had countless conversations with students who are struggling to continue their education, worried about debt and having to make decisions between paying for classes and paying for electricity. Campus food banks have seen record demand and emergency grant funds have been quickly depleted.

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We must strengthen our investment in our students and communities by making higher education more affordable. As Congress considers President Biden’s American Families Plan, I stand with education leaders from across California who are calling on Congress to expand financial aid and double Pell. Doing so will significantly increase college access, improve student outcomes, strengthen our workforce and make this a joyous time of year for many more families.

With a Perspective, I’m Heather Lattimer.

Heather Lattimer is a professor of education and dean of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San José State University.