Going to college and getting an education has long been regarded as a reliable path out of poverty. And for good reason. Research by the Pew Economic Mobility Project shows that children in the bottom income quintile have a forty-five percent chance of remaining in the bottom quintile if they only have a high school education; those who get a college degree only have a sixteen percent chance. Likewise, the average college graduate makes $29,000 more per year than someone with only a high school diploma.
Yet when a college education isn’t even an option because of its excessive cost—as is increasingly the case for many U.S. families—this narrative falls apart. Today, the average American household must devote a significant portion of their annual income to tuition in order to make attending college a reality. Although in the long run the educational system needs greater structural changes, two policy reforms that would facilitate saving for college from a young age—the ASPIRE Act and improved 529 accounts—would allow a greater number of low-income students to access higher education.