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How the rising cost of higher education is falling on students

A college education in the U.S. has become virtually impossible for the average American to afford without state or federal loans, grants, scholarships or support from family members. Meanwhile, tuition continues to increase, and the student's share of the cost has grown.

Note: State spending represents appropriations for higher education in each state per student enrolled full-time in a public university; The student share is net tuition as a proportion of total higher education revenues; Data for Illinois is not available and is not included the U.S. average; Dollar amounts are adjusted for inflation; Data: State Higher Education Executive Officers Association; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

The big picture

While there are some states that have actually cut their funding for state universities, The Chronicle of Higher Education's senior reporter Eric Kelderman told Axios that enrollment numbers are a big factor in the decreasing funding-per-student data — the more students there are, the less funding there is to go around.

The facts

  • While there has been a state spending-per-student decrease over the years, the past 4-5 years has seen a slight increase.
  • Between 2000 and 2011, college enrollment skyrocketed. But enrollment has dwindled over the past 4-5 years.
  • The national student debt is now more than $1.4 trillion, according to the Student Loan Report.
  • The average annual college tuition (including fees and room and board) for a four-year, in-state, public university is $20,770, according to CollegeBoard, a 3.2% increase over last year.
  • The average debt per student is $27,857.

The politics

Republican House members are proposing a sweeping higher education reform bill next week, which in part aims to fix this problem by capping federal student loans and incentivizing universities to ensure their students succeed post-graduation. Meanwhile, Democrats advocate for solutions like loan forgiveness or free college — as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders often campaigned on in 2016.

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