2018 Indicators Report Released at National Press Club, Encourages Dialogue among Scholars

June 15, 2018

On May 17, 2018, The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Education (Pell Institute) of the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (PennAHEAD), released the Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States — 2018 Historical Trend Report at a meeting at the National Press Club. The release featured a panel discussion with Michelle Cooper, President of the Institute for Higher Education Policy; Lorelle Espinosa, Assistant Vice President, Center for Policy Research and Strategy of the American Council on Education; Rodney Hopson, Professor, Division of Educational Psychology, Research Methods, and Education Policy, College of Education and Human Development and Senior Research Fellow, Center for Education Policy and Evaluation at George Mason University; COE President Maureen Hoyler; and Richard Kahlenberg, Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation.

Since 2015, the Indicators Reports have examined trends in higher education in the U.S. through the lens of equity, compiling historical trend data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Education and other public sources. The 2018 report, for the first time, includes data by state, and also includes statistics on income inequality trends.

The 2018 Indicators report found that low-income, first-generation American students face major barriers, financial, and otherwise, in attending colleges and universities, and those obstacles can vary significantly by state. In addition, while more first-generation college students are enrolling, the nation has not yet achieved equal access to higher education for all citizens regardless of family background or geographic location. These continuing disparities have significant negative consequences on the ability of all citizens to earn a living wage, on our nation’s global competitiveness and contribute to income inequality in the United States.

Some of the key findings:

  • The cost of college is nearly equal to the poorest students’ family income. For students in the lowest quartile of family income, the cost of attending college amounts to 84 percent of family income.
  • College participation among low-income students differ by state. The college participation rate for low-income students ranged from 10 percent in Alaska and 21 percent in Oklahoma and Wyoming, to 50 percent in New Hampshire, 53 percent in New York, and 56 percent in New Jersey.
  • Average college costs vary substantially by state. Average costs in public 2-year colleges range from $1,262 in California to $7,002 in New Hampshire. Public 4-year college costs range from $13,709 in Utah to $26,968 in New Hampshire. Private 4-year costs range from $13,010 in Idaho to $57,363 in Massachusetts.
  • Bachelor’s degree attainment varies by state. Massachusetts, at 51 percent, leads the states in percentage of 25 to 34 year-old population with a bachelor’s or higher degree, while Nevada’s 22 percent is the lowest. The U.S. now has almost as much variation among individual states as among countries in bachelor’s degree attainment of the same age group.
  • College debt has become the norm. By 2012, 70 percent of U.S. graduating college seniors had incurred debt, up from 50 percent of graduating seniors in 1990.

The release of the 2018 report coincided with COE’s May Board Meeting, which enabled the Board of Directors to attend. “The condition of education and the performance of those undertaking post-secondary education is key to our global future,” said COE Board Chair Kaye Monk-Morgan, Assistant Dean for Students, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Wichita State University. “There are indicators that reveal we are making progress while others show that we clearly have a long way to go. The Indicators report is a much needed resource for educators, legislators, and leaders in a multitude of sectors.”

Michelle A. Danvers Foust, COE Past Board Chair and Director of TRIO Pre-Collegiate Programs at Bronx Community College said “The Pell Institute’s Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States is a comprehensive research tool that will enable policymakers, educators, and those interested in educational equity in higher education to measure, compare, and contrast equal access to higher education in the United States. The inclusion of state data this year provides further extrapolation of data and the performance of each state, which is critical in the establishment of laws and policies designed to provide equity in higher education for all.”

For more information on the Indicators report or to download a copy, please go to (