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Press release/statement

NEA Survey Finds College Affordability Set to Emerge as Sleeper Campaign Issue

New Report by Demos Underscores Survey Findings, Showing Sharp Rise in College-Related Costs and Debt; Access for Minorities

WASHINGTON, DC — The rising cost of college is a critical, yet largely overlooked concern of voters this election year, according to a new National Education Association (NEA)/ Project New West survey. It finds that a majority of voters believe a college education is necessary to make ends meet in today's global economy but feel that struggling middle class families don't get the help they need to pay for it.

Seventy percent of parents of college students surveyed said that making college more affordable was an important issue for them in the upcoming election; 34 percent said it was the most important issue to them. For current college students, those figures stood at 65 percent and 34 percent, respectively. The majority of respondents believe college affordability is key to sustaining our nation's competitive edge in today's global economy and building long-term prosperity for our nation and our children.

Among the NEA survey's additional findings:

  • 78% of those surveyed said it is now more difficult to afford a college education than it was 10 years ago;
  • 64% said higher education is no longer a luxury, it's necessary to make ends meet;
  • 64% also agree that the middle class doesn't get enough to help pay for college;
  • Concerns about college affordability are particularly salient with Hispanics: 48% of those surveyed said it was the most important issue to them;
  • By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, those surveyed favored a plan to create a $4,000 a year tax credit for tuition and fees if a student commits to giving 100 hours of public service each year.

"Soaring tuition prices, along with anemic levels of federal student aid, have created a debt-for-diploma system that is stunting many young adults' economic progress as they try to start their lives," said author and economic expert Tamara Draut, who is Vice President of the national policy center Demos. "Inflation-adjusted tuition at public universities has nearly tripled since 1980 and college students today are graduating on average with close to $20,000 in debt."

"The Economic State of Young America," a report published by Demos in May, examines the fiscal anxiety among young adults reflected in the NEA survey. The report found evidence of widespread destabilization in the financial lives of young adults across key economic factors.

These factors include:

  • Flat income and unstable job trends among today's young workers;
  • Rapid proliferation of debt from student loans and credit card debt;
  • The difficulty of paying for a college education, the increasing college dropout rate, and the decreasing enrollment of minority students;
  • The skyrocketing cost of housing, the growing trend of young adults living with their parents, and the increasing ratio of rent to income;
  • The rising cost of raising a family, even in households where both parents work.

"The NEA survey, backed up by these facts, outline a disturbing trend that spells trouble for young workers--our future middle class--as well as for the health of the US economy overall," says Draut. "Young people desperately need a new social contract that creates opportunities for workers of all educational backgrounds to work or educate their way into the middle class. This must be on the agenda of the 111th Congress and the next Administration."

Project New West conducted the NEA-commissioned survey from July 21, 2008 through August 3, 2008, and included interviews with current college students, recent graduates, parents of college students, and individuals with student loans.