Affordable Higher Education

Making student loan programs more affordable and efficient.

A college degree is practically a necessity these days, not only for the individual student, but for the economic and social health of the country. But as states cut budgets, and grant aid has diminished, students are relying on loans to pay for college.

It has not always been this way. Twelve years ago only one-third of college graduates from four year public colleges needed to borrow money to attain a college degree and graduates who borrowed carried around $12,000 of debt on average. Today more than two-thirds of graduates have federal student loan debt and carry over $23,000 on average. The percentage of students with $25,000 worth of private student loan debt has increased, from 5% in 1996 to 24% in 2008. 

Relying on student loans to pay for college can have negative consequences. Too much loan debt causes qualified students to opt out of college completely; it causes current students to work too much and study less, and it causes borrowers who’ve graduated to opt out of socially valuable careers, and to delay life milestones like buying a home or getting married.

More and more students are moving beyond financial aid to finance their degrees with private student loans.  Private loans are much riskier, bringing applicants in with low advertised interest rates but spitting them out with higher interest rates and record debt levels.

A college degree must remain within reach for families of modest means, and affordable over the long term for the borrowers and parents in repayment. We work to increase student grant aid, make debt levels more manageable, and protect students as consumers from practices that contribute to educational debt.  

We need robust grant programs on a state and federal level, a simpler system of student aid that actively encourages student and parental participation, and stronger safeguards for student borrowers in repayment.  

Also, we can lower student debt by protecting student consumers. College students pay unjustifiably high amounts for college textbooks each year. And those who rely on credit and debit cards to help offset day to day costs of education, or to access their financial aid disbursements, can get slapped with penalty fees and terms that take advantage of them.

Issue updates

Report | Textbooks

Required Reading

Over the last three years, research conducted by the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) and others have shown that textbooks are a growing cost of going to college. These studies also have found that the textbook industry is using a host of practices that drive up the price of college textbooks. In the fall of 2006, we interviewed faculty members, walked through bookstores and interviewed bookstore staff to uncover textbooks that reveal six types of textbook industry gimmicks. (October 2006)

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Report | Textbooks

Exposing the Textbook Industry

Today's college students are under enormous financial pressure. The gap between tuition and fees and financial aid leaves many students working long hours through college, struggling to make ends meet, and graduating with large debts. The high cost of textbooks is yet another financial burden. MASSPIRG conducted a survey of 287 professors from a variety of disciplines at Massachusetts colleges and universities over the fall semester of 2006 to get their views on textbook industry practices that drive up prices. (February 2007)

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Report | Textbooks

Limited Knowledge

The future of academic research is in peril. University budgets are decreasing while the cost of academic journals is skyrocketing. As a result, universities are unable to purchase vital journal subscriptions that help boost the quality and success of new academic research. Fortunately, new and innovative solutions are growing in popularity and have the potential to change the future of academic communication. (September 2005)

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Report | Textbooks

A Guide to Establishing Textbook Rental Services

One innovative way to lower textbook costs is allowing students to rent, rather than purchase, their textbooks each semester. This document is a twelve step guide for colleges and universities interested in lowering textbook costs for students by transitioning to a textbook rental service or exploring new, innovative business models. (July 2005)

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Ripoff 101: 2nd Edition

In order to both confirm our initial findings and to follow up on a number of anecdotal reports of additional problems with textbook pricing, the State PIRGs conducted an expanded survey of the most widely purchased textbooks at 59 colleges and universities across the country. (February 2005)

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