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confronting cost

Public discourse around the increasing cost of college and the student debt crisis has reached a feverpitch over the past five years. College and university administrators have responded to these concerns by increasing the amount of financial aid institutions provide to students: the average discount rate is now over 45 percent for private schools. This means that the average private college subsidizes students at a rate of $0.45 for every dollar of tuition it receives.

Schools give two types of scholarships: need-based scholarships that go to the lowest-income students, and merit scholarships that go to the smartest students. A report from the New America Foundation finds schools are increasingly using their money on merit scholarships. Steven Burd authored the report, and he says this trend means more money is going to those who need it the least. 

In what it calls “an elaborate shell game,” universities and colleges are shifting their financial aid from low-income students to high-income ones to bolster their prestige and raise them up the rankings, a new report says.

Meanwhile, according to the report by the nonprofit, nonpartisan New America Foundation, universities are leaving their poorest families to vie for a piece of billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded Pell Grants.

As families pack the 18-year-olds off for college right about now, they've hopefully confronted the cost of tuition, room and board, and health care. Then there's the cost of textbooks. One estimate figures the average is $600 for books and materials per year, another estimate runs twice that. Some students save money by renting or buying used textbooks. Others, given the cost, don't get the books at all.

In Washington D.C. this week, House lawmakers advanced a bill that could make it easier for students and families to manage debt by combining four college tax benefits into a single one. The idea, supporters say, is to reduce some of the confusion that exists around paying for college. Despite current tax credits, student loan debt in the United States has skyrocketed over $1 trillion.

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A new report out this week from the Brookings Institution looks at more than two decades of financial data, specifically how Americans are paying for higher education. The report finds the student debt crisis that we've all been hearing about isn't actually as bad as the public – and the media – often makes it out to be. WGBH’s Kirk Carapezza sat down with Beth Akers, a co-author of the report, to talk about the controversial findings.

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The documentary film Ivory Tower, which opens in Boston on Friday, explores the much-debated question of whether the cost of college is worth it. On Campus spoke with the director Andrew Rossi. 

It's eight in the morning, and Debra Zhang is heading to work. She grabs her keys and umbrella, slips on her shoes, and steps on to Boylston Street in Boston's Fenway neighborhood.

Zhang is one of the more than 800,000 international students that attended American colleges and universities last year -- more than 46,000 of them in Massachusetts. And schools are expecting a spike this fall. This trend has implications both for international and domestic students.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted against a bill filed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., that would allow college graduates to refinance their outstanding student loans at lower interest rates. 

Despite the public outcry about mounting student loan debt, Republican leaders widely dismissed the measure as a progressive political stunt during an election year because it called for a new tax on millionaires and billionaires to cover the cost. 

After decades of rising costs, students are less willing and able to pay a premium for college education. Many families are asking whether college is worth it. And that question has been posed repeatedly in recent headlines. From a New York Times op-ed to NPR's Education Blog, many pundits are making their voices heard.

For those who don't want to slog through every op-ed and article, WGBH’s On Campus has aggregated highlights in one place.

So… is college worth it?

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