The Higher Cost of Higher Education 

The cost of higher education continues to plague families of college-bound students. With rising tuition costs and pandemic safety nets in limbo, incoming students are hoping to find ways to afford college. With recent light shone on the Department of Education, fear of student loans is mounting leaving students with fewer opportunities for educational funding.  


On average, African American students graduate owing $25,000 more in student loan debt than their counterparts, yet 54 percent of all student loan debts are held by Caucasian students according to Education Data. Although student loans are awarded to a vast majority of students despite race, African American students are mostly likely to struggle financially with looming debt. Though financial concerns are a top issue for those wishing to continue their education, more than money restricts access to higher education.  


“In my experience, the biggest barriers for high school students can be financial, personal and social.  The financial barrier being how expensive higher education is, social and personal barrier is a combination of preparedness for the experience but also belief that they can actually get to that college or university,” said Tiffany E. Brockington, higher education professional. “Unfortunately, for students who desire to leave Michigan to attend a college or university elsewhere, there is a greater financial barrier, especially for public, out-of-state institutions and sometimes, greater anxiety in the student and parent or responsible adult, around being away from everything that is familiar to them and their family.” 


Students who are already enrolled in the college or university of their choice face different challenges tied to financial stability. Students who receive financial assistance from the federal government are also charged to maintain a certain level of academic success. However, undergraduates who find themselves below the threshold, face both academic and financial repercussions that may be difficult to recover from.  


“For undergraduate students, federal financial aid is tied to student academic performance.  Performing well enough, at least a 2.0 grade point average and having a two-thirds completion ratio, will ensure that a student maintains their federal financial aid eligibility.  Additionally, what federal aid a student is eligible to receive depends on their dependency status — whether or not they have the support of their parents or other legally responsible adults,” said Brockington.  


Students looking to attend community college are not exempt as they, too, face financial challenges in the same way as students of four-year institutions. For Detroiters, relief is on the horizon, however some students are unaware of programs in place to elevate them towards a path of success. The Detroit Promise program offers a tuition-free path for two- and four-year students and those in the skilled trades. However, higher education is more than tuition payment and some programs do not cover the costs associated with living, books and other materials. Citing a footnote from the MDRC, Brockington believes there is misunderstanding around the disbursement of financial aid. The footnote reads, in part: 


“Most Detroit Promise students qualify for federal, need-based Pell Grants that fully cover the cost of tuition and fees at Detroit-area community colleges. As a result, most students were not receiving substantial scholarship dollars, as their tuition and fees were already covered…since many students from low-income households do not realize that they are eligible for need-based financial aid.” 


“The biggest point in this footnote is that most Detroit students from low-income households do not realize that they are eligible for need-based financial aid.  This study and its subject prioritize using the federal Pell Grant for tuition and fees. However, the Pell Grant and FSEO grant can be used for any costs related to attendance at the college or university level, including housing,” said Brockington. “Part of what makes this difficult or the points that the general public doesn’t understand is that there are more costs than tuition and fees.” 


Students are encouraged to seek programs on campus that can help alleviate financial costs.  


“One of the best on-campus programs that an at-risk undergraduate student can utilize is the TRiO program.  TRiO is a federally-funded grant program that provides services to students who are first-generation college going, low-income, or have a disability. Most Detroit students fit between those three requirements and they should definitely connect with TRiO within their first 30 days on campus,” said Brockington. 


Students who received additional help through high school should also advocate for themselves in their higher education.  


“Additionally, for students who had an IEP in place for their elementary through secondary educational careers, those students need to advocate for their accommodations at the collegiate level prior to officially starting their college career.  It is not a given and it requires that the student seeks the accommodations; this is how the student can ensure that they have the tools and resources in place for their success,” said Brockington.  


Students are also advised to take prerequisites before enrolling in college to help cut costs of postsecondary school.  


“For students who already believe that they will continue their education beyond high school, they should participate in Dual Enrollment programs.  Students should prioritize completing gateway courses like English 101, English 102, a foreign language set, college Algebra, and a social science course,” said Brockington “Prioritizing these courses will ensure that a prospective college student is closer to satisfying general education requirements thus, saving them time and money when pursuing a bachelors’ degree.” 

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