So what is "affordable?" Most concepts of affordability are based on what college should cost, not what students can afford to pay. For example, colleges and universities often set tuition based not on what students can afford but rather on what the institutions need in terms of revenue. The conversations about affordability typically begin with what college prices are, what grant aid is available, and then ultimately wind up with what students are left to pay. Instead, the student-centered model proposed here begins with what students can reasonably contribute, and then suggests that the system be built around their needs.
It is our hope that the affordability benchmark will contribute to the ongoing policy dialogue about college affordability in the coming months and years. However, instead of these conversations being shrouded in ambiguity, they can be grounded in a more specific idea of what affordability actually is.