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College Affordability ñ F: Whoa, Hold On!


This week the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education sent out their “Measuring Up 2008” report indicating that Tennessee received a failing grade in making college affordable.  Let me applaud the report in calling for more student financial assistance.  There is no doubt that more needs to be done to ensure that a college education is within reach for all college qualified students.   As David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities observed, “Colleges and universities; the federal and state governments; and philanthropic, corporate, and foundation charities all must redouble their efforts to ensure access to higher education.”

The danger, however, with such a doom-and-gloom message is that students will write off the possibility of college based on this misleading headline before they even explore their financial assistance possibilities.

Here’s the good news:  There is money available to attend college!!

Tennessee is currently investing over $280 million a year in student funding through the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship programs and the Tennessee Student Assistance Award.  The Federal Pell Grant is going up - not down.  Speaking for the private not-for-profit colleges and universities, they provide over $318 million a year in assistance to their students – representing 69% of their students’ grant and scholarship aid. 

Nearly 88% of students attending a Tennessee private college or university receive some form of financial assistance.  As well, Tennessee’s private college and universities’ average tuition is 28% less than the national average for a private college education.

Most Tennesseans don’t realize this but the average family income of a student attending a private college or university in Tennessee is $54,700.  This is $7,400 less than the $62,100 average found at Tennessee’s public universities.

So what might a financial aid package look like for a Tennessee student choosing a private college who scores a 21 on her ACT and comes from a family making $36,000 a year?  After completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in a timely manner (meaning before March 1 of the year you plan to enter college), this student would find that she may receive a financial aid award letter that looks something like this:

$4,600 - Federal Pell Grant (gift money)

$4,400 – Tennessee Student Assistance Award (gift money)

$5,500 – Tennessee Hope Scholarship with the Aspire Supplement (scholarship money)

$4,000 – College grant (gift money)

$2,000 – Federal Work Study Program (on campus job)

$3,500 – Federal Stafford Student Loan (you repay after finishing college)

$24,000 - TOTAL

With the average Tennessee private college tuition for 2008-2009 at $18,000, this package goes a long way toward making college affordable.  SO GO TO COLLEGE!

The report rightly challenges all of us to do more to make a college education possible for everyone!  But to send out an alarming message that dashes the dream of going college is simply wrong.  With nearly 69,000 students attending a private college or university in Tennessee there is obviously a lot being done to make college affordable.

We need to make sure this message is heard loud and clear by all students:  College can be affordable for those who are qualified and are willing to do their part in paying for college.  Don’t give up on seeking the right college education for you!

Dr. Claude Pressnell