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Cost of College Affects Enrollment Choices, Impacts Major Life Events

May 1, 2024

The latest Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education 2024 study shows concerns about college affordability are top of mind for Americans.

The report finds that cost is a major perceived barrier to obtaining a postsecondary credential. 71% of U.S. adults who have taken out student loans report having delayed at least one significant life event because of their student loan debt.

Learn more in the news release below.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — April 17, 2024 — Gallup and Lumina Foundation’s newly released
report, Cost of College: The Price Tag of Higher Education and Its Effect on Enrollment,
examines how cost bars and burdens Americans pursuing higher education. The study reveals
that a majority of Americans (75%) believe a bachelor’s degree is “extremely” or “very” valuable. However, cost is a major deterrent for many who wish to attain a degree or credential.

More than half (56%) of unenrolled adults say cost is a “very” important reason they are not pursuing an education after high school. Cost is not only discouraging people from enrolling, it is stopping students from completing their programs. In the most recent survey, 31% of enrolled adults have considered stopping their coursework within the last three months due to the cost of attendance.

For those who have taken out student loans, the financial burden can persist long after graduation or stopping out. Seventy-one percent of currently and previously enrolled student
borrowers report delaying at least one significant life event, such as purchasing a home (29%) or a car (28%), because of their student debt. The study finds that even relatively small student loans will cause people to pause parts of their lives: Sixty-three percent of adults who borrowed less than $10,000 have delayed at least one major life event because of their loans. Loan debt is also a factor in finishing one’s education; 35% of students who stopped out of college say that loans prevent them from returning to complete their degree or credential.

Despite concerns over cost, the study shows that many Americans do not know the true cost of
a degree. Among all adults, nearly half underestimate the cost of a bachelor’s degree by $5,000
or more, and an additional 31% overestimate costs by the same margin. This lack of cost clarity could be a barrier for some people wishing to enroll. When told the actual cost of in-state
attendance, half of never enrolled adults say they would be “much” or “somewhat” more likely to
pursue a bachelor’s degree.

About Lumina Foundation
Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis committed to making
opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. We envision higher learning that is
easy to navigate, addresses racial injustice, and meets the nation’s talent needs through a
broad range of credentials. We are working toward a system that prepares people for informed
citizenship and success in a global economy.

About Gallup
Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing
problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows
more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students, and citizens than
any other organization in the world.