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Report: Housing Costs Can Shut Door to College for Older Students

College can be costly up front, especially for older students, but degrees can better shield folks during recessions. (digitalskillet1/Adobe Stock)
College can be costly up front, especially for older students, but degrees can better shield folks during recessions. (digitalskillet1/Adobe Stock)
August 20, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. -- For older students, housing costs can send the price of college through the roof.

A new study from the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality finds costs beyond tuition are two-and-a-half times larger than tuition at four-year institutions and four times larger at two-year institutions.

Housing makes up at least a third of those costs.

Patrick Crane, director of community colleges and workforce development for the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, said adult students usually are working and caring for dependents, meaning degree programs can take twice as long to finish.

"Because housing costs are a bigger proportion of the total cost of attendance than tuition and fees, it ends up costing them more to complete a college degree than a student who is able to attend full time," Crane said.

The Georgetown study found housing costs are so burdensome they push some older students to the brink.

Nearly 18% of students ages 25 to 45 experience or are at risk of homelessness, compared with about 4% of younger students.

Crane said the extra costs associated with college aren't always apparent when students are enrolling. The federal government requires higher education institutions to have a net price calculator on their website, but he said there's more work to be done.

"Transparency about cost of attendance is absolutely essential for any student to make an informed decision about what it will cost them to attend higher education," Crane said.

Crane explained Oregon offers need-based financial aid through opportunity grants, but unfortunately it is not enough to cover the full cost of attending college.

He said some cost-effective alternatives to associate's or bachelor's degrees are short-term degree and certificate programs.

Crane added while college can come at high upfront costs, it pays dividends on the other side. For instance, people with degrees have been less vulnerable to the pandemic-related recession.

"The higher the level of your degree, the lower rate of unemployment that you were likely to have, in addition to the higher earnings," Crane said.

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Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR