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Academic Year

This determines which academic year to analyze and pre-fill with available data.

Data Source

This does not apply to all states. For most states, data will be drawn from the Integrated
Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). States that have supplied alternative data can
choose the Estimation Model (based on eligibility estimates) or the Actual Model (based on
historical empirical data).


Choose a state to analyze.

Institution Type or Group

Choose the subset of institutions within the state. Custom groupings of institutions are also

Median Family Income

This shows the median family income level used in the X-axis of the chart. The median income
for a family of four for the state and year selected are used regardless of the family size chosen.


For data drawn from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey (NPSAS), select the year
to use. The survey is not conducted every year.

Minimum Headcount For Display

This allows the user to determine the minimum cell size used to display data. Some data can be
misleading if, for example, very few people actually receive a particular type of aid but those
who do get a large amount.

Family Size

Select the family size to be used in calculating aid, such as Pell Grants, where eligibility is
affected by the number.

Students in Family

Select the number of students in the family.

Dependency Status

Select Dependent, Independent or Independent with Dependents. This will affect aid eligibility
calculations and also determine whose income and savings are used. For dependent students,
parents’ income and savings are used. For independent students, the student’s (and/or
spouse’s) income is used.

Living Status

Choose Live Away or Live with Family. This will affect the estimated non-tuition costs. The
model does not distinguish between on or off campus students in the Live Away option, but
instead estimates an adequate budget to be able to pay for housing, room and board given the
options available.

Years in College

Select the number of years the student will be in college.

Enrollment Status

Choose Full Time, Three Quarters, or Half Time. The data are most complete when using the
“full-time” option.

Family Income Contribution

Select the family contribution, from current income above a set threshold, each year while the student is attending college. It is set as a percentage of the family’s total annual income.

Family Income Exclusion

Set the annual income threshold, as a percentage of the poverty guideline, above which the family can afford to spend on college.

Percent Disc. Income Saved

Explore the amount of money put into college saving each year, as a percentage of the family’s total annual income above the set threshold.

Years of Savings

Explore the number of years that the family spends saving for college.

Interest on Savings

Select the annual real interest that is earned on money saved for college.

Savings Depletion

Set the amount of the total college savings, as a percentage of the total amount that was saved, used to pay for college while attending the selected institution. The amount you choose might depend on whether you are looking at two-year institutions or four-year institutions.

Hours Worked

Choose the number of hours worked per year while the student is enrolled that produce
earnings students can use for any of their tuition or non-tuition expenses (e.g. food, rent, books,
etc.). The default is set at 500 hours, which is 10 hours per week, 50 weeks per year.


Choose a typical wage available to students enrolled in the selected state. The default is set at
the state minimum wage (or federal minimum, if the state does not have a higher wage).

Loan Repayment Ratio

Choose the percentage of students’ post-graduation earnings that would be reasonable to
earmark for loan repayment without considering the amount of debt “unaffordable.” What this
number should be is a good topic for policy discussions in states. The default is set at 7%

Percentile of Earner

This variable is the percentage of graduates would find their debt “unaffordable” given the other
assumptions, based on the income distribution of state residents with the relevant degree level. See example
on the right.

Interest on Debt

This is the estimated annual percentage rate interest charged on student debt.

Loan Duration

This is the number of years graduates would be expected to be repaying the amount of
“affordable debt”

The loan-related variables determine how much “affordable debt” is shown on the graph. The
numbers selected and shown on the chart reflect your or your state’s implied definition of
affordability when it comes to student borrowing.

For example, the default of 20% for graduates of four-year institutions means 20% of bachelor’s
graduates in the state would not be able to repay the amount of “affordable debt” shown on the
chart given the other assumptions (i.e. percentage of income and interest rate). At 50%, half of
graduates would not be able to afford the level of “affordable debt” on the chart.

Tuition Adjustment

The tuition amount shown is based on IPEDS or on state-provided data and encompasses
tuition and required fees. If you need to adjust it or want to model affordability based on a
potential change in tuition policy, you can increase or decrease the number used.

Non-Tuition Adjustment

The non-tuition budget is based on the average of institutionally reported student budgets for
non-tuition expenses (books, room, board, transportation and personal expenses). If you wish to
use or model a higher or lower number, you can adjust the assumption here.

Annual Cost of Attendance

This shows the combined tuition and non-tuition costs based on actual data and/or user-entered
adjustments. This number determines the maximum scale of the Y-Axis of the graph-the
amount that needs to be covered somehow for education to be affordable.

Other Variables

Depending on the state, there may be other variables here that allow states to model possible
changes or different assumptions relevant to their specific policy context.