October 26, 2022
The average Pell Grant recipient could afford to attend only 24% of public four-year colleges in the 2019-20 academic year, according to a new report from the National College Attainment Network. Pell-eligible students at four-year institutions faced an average unmet financial need, or affordability gap, of $2,627.
Just 40% of community colleges were classified as affordable for Pell Grant recipients and, on average, these students attending two-year colleges faced $907 in unmet financial need.
Only eight states had five or more four-year colleges that NCAN considered affordable. And in 10 states, there were no colleges that qualified as affordable between 2015-16 and 2019-20.
NCAN, a nonprofit focused on college access and success, classifies a college as affordable when its total cost of attendance plus $300 is equal to or less than an average student’s wages, financial aid and expected family contribution. A majority of four-year public colleges were inaccessible to the average Pell Grant recipient in 2015-16, with only 29% qualifying as affordable. But the problem has gotten even worse, not better, in the intervening years, according to the report.
Between 2015-16 and 2019-20, the affordability gap grew at both two- and four-year institutions. During this time, the affordability gap among 524 public four-year colleges increased by 59% from an average of $1,656 to $2,627.
The jump was even more dramatic at community colleges. In 2015-16, the average affordability gap at two-year colleges was $246. It rose to $907 in 2019-20, an increase of 269%.
Some states provided students with more affordable options than others. Washington has the highest rate of affordable institutions, at 82%. In Kentucky and New Mexico, 75% of public colleges were affordable for Pell Grant recipients. And in all three states, every community college qualified as affordable.