Measuring Up

Report: National Center For Public Policy And Higher Education

States are making little or no progress in providing affordable college opportunities or improving college completion rates for their residents, says a report released today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The findings come as states face massive budget shortfalls that threaten higher-education funding, and the U.S. continues to lag behind other advanced nations on measures of higher-education performance.

According to the report, the rising cost of college, even before the recession, threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans.  Published college tuition and fees increased 439% from 1982 to 2007 (adjusted for inflation) while median family income rose 147%. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last 10 years, and students from lower-income families (on average) get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

The report, Measuring Up 2008, is one of the few to compare net college costs — that is, a year’s tuition, fees, room and board, minus financial aid — against median family income. Those findings are stark. Last year, the net cost at a four-year public university amounted to 28 percent of the median family income, while a four-year private university cost 76 percent of the median family income.

“This study reveals that higher education is becoming a roadblock, not a gateway, to success for low-income and middle-class students,” says Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., chair of the National Center For Public Policy And Higher Education board of directors and former four-term governor of North Carolina. “States must confront these roadblocks to ensure that the United States can remain competitive with other industrialized nations that have made expansion of opportunity and affordable higher education national priorities.”

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