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COVID-19 and the high cost of college for older students

The gap in equitable access to affordable postsecondary education across race and income levels is expected to worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study by the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality and Lumina Foundation. Photo: bls.gov

By ROZ BROWN
Texas News Service

AUSTIN, Texas — Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, college students were derailed from graduating due to the high cost of housing, food and transportation.

Now, a new study shows unexpected expenses often challenge older students to enroll and stay enrolled.

Older students, defined as those ages 25 to 45, make up nearly a third of the first-time undergraduate student body overall.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, founder of the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, said cost estimates by some colleges can be “wildly wrong.”

“There’s evidence that for the for-profit colleges, when the government started holding them accountable they started lowering their costs, but they didn’t lower their tuition; they just lowered the estimated cost of living while you go there,” Goldrick-Rab said.

She said colleges often cite housing when they advertise that they’re less expensive, even though housing costs continue to rise in nearly every state and only 15% of American undergraduates live on campus.

She said nowadays, almost one in four college students has a child, and need to factor day care into their college costs.

Other unexpected costs that can derail an older college student include changing majors, which typically requires new books and supplies.

Goldrick-Rab said students and parents usually do their homework when it comes to affordability, but explained a situation parents find themselves in all too often.

“We looked at the meal-plan prices, and we bought something we thought was affordable, and it’s giving her 12 meals a week out of the 21, and she’ll just fend for herself for the others, but she actually doesn’t have enough money to cover the others,” Goldrick-Rab said.

Goldrick-Rab added parents may think a student is saving money by living at home, but might qualify for more financial aid if they lived closer to campus.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

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