Most American families have lost ground in college affordability. Over the last two decades, the cost of attending two- and four-year public and private colleges (including tuition and other education-related expenses) has grown more rapidly than inflation, and faster than family income as well. As a result, the share of family income that is needed to pay for tuition and other college expenses has increased.
The principal driver of the increased cost of attending college is higher tuition, and only the wealthiest families have seen their incomes keep pace with increases in tuition. The lowest-income families have lost the most ground, and this is a major factor in their lower rates of college attendance. For example, for the lowest-income families in 1980, tuition at public two-year colleges represented 6% of their family income. For the lowest-income families in 2000, tuition at these colleges represented 12% of their income. Likewise, tuition at public four-year colleges and universities represented 13% of income for the lowest-income families in 1980. In 2000, tuition at these colleges and universities equaled 25% of their income.
In Nevada, we are seeing this consequence now, as an ideological driven approach to public policy has forced students to absorb fee increases of 10% a year for this year and next -- and are still faced with the prospect of deeper cuts that could force cancellation of course sections and programs for which they have already paid this increased tuition.