One Proposal to Promote College Affordability: An Updated LEAP Program

Cameron Hecht; Weekly Blog Post; Due: 10/13/2014 @ 9am

In the report by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHIE), the authors put forward a number of policy proposals that make states centrally responsible for college affordability, but also put those states in a position to gain from success in increasing affordability (WICHIE, 2014). Perhaps one of the most interesting ideas proposed in the report is the resurrection and redesign of the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) program. Although the LEAP program was discontinued during the economic recession, it previously provided states financial incentives to create their own need-based grant programs. The authors propose not only reviving this function of the old LEAP program, but expanding LEAP to “distribute support to states based on how well students are able to afford their costs of attendance” (WICHIE, 2014). Through this new function, the authors suggest that LEAP would generate competition among states to maximize college affordability and thus receive the financial benefits of achieving this goal from the federal government. While this proposal is promising, it is worth considering whether instantiating this reimagined LEAP would produce the type of inter-state competition that the authors predict. Specifically, given that colleges and universities play such a large role in determining the affordability of higher education (e.g., by setting tuition rates and providing their own financial support), it is hard to imagine how states can expect to have a substantial impact on affordability. As institutions are unlikely to lower their tuition rates in order to help their state government to receive more federal resources, states’ only obvious strategy to increase affordability would be through their own financial aid programs or by attempting to incentivize institutions to make college affordable for low-income students. While this strategy is feasible, it is unclear whether state policies can impact the affordability of higher education to a great enough degree to overcome factors impacting affordability that vary randomly by state, such as average tuition and proportion of low-income students. This could make it difficult to determine how the new LEAP program would decide which states have earned financial incentives by increasing affordability.