New Publications Examine Federal, State, and Institutional Practices to Strengthen College Access and Success Through Affordability

March 8th, 2024

The publications are part of our national initiative Affirming Equity, Ensuring Inclusion and Empowering Action initiative to elevate practices that support the college preparation, admission, affordability, and success of Latinx, Black, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, and American Indian and Alaskan Native students to ensure inclusion in higher education 

(California) – Today, the Campaign for College Opportunity released two publications focused on improving college affordability for students under the Affirming Equity, Ensuring Inclusion and Empowering Action national initiative: Equitable College Affordability Policies and Practices, and Advancing Equity Through A Universal Financial Aid Application Policy. Affording college has been increasingly challenging for students and their families, and recent issues with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) highlights the need for a consistent and simplified process that encourages and increases access to higher education. All talented students, regardless of their financial means, should have the opportunity to earn a degree. This approach to making higher education affordable also reduces the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court decision curtailing the use of race in higher education admissions while providing equitable access for all students, but particularly those from low-income families.

Equitable College Affordability Policies and Practices, authored by Emmanuel Rodriguez and Laura Szabo-Kubitz of The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), examines how specific college affordability policies and practices at the federal, state, and institutional levels can be strengthened to close racial equity gaps in college affordability and completion, and support widespread diversity and representation in higher education. “Our debt-financed system of higher education has created a reality in which college is simply out of reach for millions of Americans – specifically those from marginalized communities,” said Emmanuel Rodriguez, director of policy and advocacy for California at The Institute for College Access & Success. “This report is part of our overall advocacy to ensure policymakers at all levels—federal, state, and institutional—make students center in their decision-making to make college more affordable and accessible, while also taking deliberate approaches to address equity gaps in higher education.”

Advancing Equity Through A Universal Financial Aid Application Policy, authored by Denise Luna and Christopher J. Nellum, Ph.D. of EdTrust-West examines how policies requiring high school seniors to complete the free federal financial aid application (FAFSA) can increase college access and degree attainment. “The current debacle with the FAFSA application process has put countless families under unnecessary stress due to uncertainty,” said Dr. Christopher Nellum. “This report recommends processes and policies that will ensure students have the support and guidance needed from the start to begin their path through higher education. We urge policymakers nationwide to seriously consider these critical changes to support our future college-bound students” 

Both publications propose solutions ensuring low-income students can afford college. State disinvestment in public colleges is a major driver of rising tuition and spiking student debt, and federal aid in the form of the Pell Grant fails to keep pace with rising expenses for students. The cost of living, coupled with tuition and related expenses, places an outsized burden on low-income families trying to figure out if college is possible. Increasing state and federal support for public higher education and redesigning financial aid equitably are crucial to the long-term success of low-income students who are disproportionately from minoritized or rural communities. Additionally, the lack of universal financial aid application policies in place around the country means unsupported, eligible students leave financial aid on the table. California’s recent requirement for all students to fill out a FAFSA or state-level financial aid application for undocumented students shows recent success in increasing successful application completion and is a model that could be expanded nationally.

TICAS, EdTrust-West, and the Campaign offer several recommendations that would make college more affordable and accessible for students, including:

“Our goal is to make sure that no talented student misses out on the opportunity to go to college because it is not affordable. These two reports offer clear recommendations for providing opportunity and financial aid as a key approach to ensure fairness, increase degree attainment and ensure economic prosperity for our nation,” said Campaign for College Opportunity President Michele Siqueiros.

Equitable College Affordability Policies and Practices is available for download here. Advancing Equity Through A Universal Financial Aid Application Policy is available for download here.


The Campaign for College Opportunity is a California non-profit bipartisan policy and research organization focused on a single mission:  to ensure all Californians have an equal opportunity to attend and succeed in college in order to build a vibrant workforce, economy and democracy. For more information, visit or follow @CollegeOpp on X and Instagram.