This fact sheet includes a brief overview of why paying for college has become so difficult. Suggestions for how college students can lower their own college costs and information on public policies that can make attending college more affordable are included.


  • Pell grants, the nation’s largest source of need-based financial aid, used to cover three quarters of a college education at a public 4 year university. Today the maximum amount covers only a third of these costs.
  • In 1980, 39 percent of federal financial aid to undergraduates was in the form of loans, and 55 percent was awarded in grants. By 2008, this had shifted to 64 percent of the funds awarded as loans and only 26 percent as grants.
  • Students can reduce their debt and take out safer loans by getting involved in public policy campaigns to make college affordable; voting  in local, state and national elections for candidates who support increased public investment in higher education.; making sure they first exhaust the amount they borrow in safer and less expensive federal loans before considering private loans; applying  for federal, state, institutional and private grants;  graduating in four years or less and working only  a moderate number of hours.