Report says higher education too expensive nationwide

Posted 7:35 p.m. Oct. 9

by Bernard Pollack

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Higher Education is simply too expensive in most states, according to a new series of rankings that offers states’ report cards released by the nonpartisan National Center for Public Policy.

The report, Measuring Up 2002 accuses high schools across the nation of not properly preparing students for higher education, and also asserts that higher education itself remains out of the economic reach for many.

The bi-annual report grades states on their performance in five categories: preparation, participation, affordability, completion and benefits and allows each state to compare its results to the 2000 report. In many states, tremendous gaps exist among income groups concerning their ability to pay for college.

Most states have seen a huge increase in tuition costs in the past two years according to the report, making attending college more difficult for lower income families. While 11 states improved their performance on all measures in providing affordable college education to their residents, these states have since responded to revenue shortfalls through steep tuition increases and insufficient investments in student financial aid.

Former Metropolitan State University faculty member and current Communications Director for the Minnesota AFL-CIO Diane Obrien said that these increases are driving down the ability for some students to attend college.

“This survey addresses many important trends in the cost of higher education. Making college less affordable means that it is less available to most middle and lower income working class families,” she said.

Maryland, despite some improvement in affordability, remains one of the most costly states in which to attend college. Maryland families must spend a quarter of their income, after financial aid, to attend public four-year colleges, compared to 18 percent in the top states.

Most states are failing to institute adequate programs to increase the availability of student aid for low income families. Alaska, Georgia, South Dakota and Wyoming provide no need-based financial aid at all to state residents. Leading this category were California, Colorado, Illinois and Virginia, which are the only four states that offer both low-cost colleges and high levels of need-based financial aid to state residents.

Measuring Up 2002 also demonstrates only slight improvement of students completing University within five years. Completion of degrees at four-year colleges and universities is low, even among the top-performing states. In no state do more than 70 percent of full-time students complete a degree within six years of enrolling in college.

Another problem is that many colleges are having trouble retaining students after their freshmen year. More than 50 percent of first-year students at community colleges return for their second year in only half of the states.

One of the categories examined by the report is overall preparedness which measures high school math, science, algebra and reading and writing proficiency.In preparing college students, Measuring Up looks at the availability of college level courses offered to high school students that might help prepare them for college level course work.

Students in many states still do not have the opportunity to take challenging high school courses that could prepare them for college. In North Carolina for example, 61 percent of students take at least one upper-level math course; in New Mexico, the percentage is about half that, 31 percent.

Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center, says Measuring Up 2002 demonstrates much higher grades to most States in overall preparedness compared with the affordability of higher education.

“As a nation, we are doing better in preparing our young people for college than we are doing in assuring that they have opportunities to enroll in and complete programs of education and training beyond high school,” he said.

Maryland and Virginia both earned higher grades than the national average. Virginia is the top-performing state in the number of high school students per 1,000 who score high on Advanced Placement exams-one indication of strong preparation for college. Yet, only 41 percent of high school students in Virginia go on to college right after graduating, as compared to 54 percent in the other top states.

Maryland fares well with 55 percent of full-time college students who complete their bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 61 percent in the top states.

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