Every state but California gets an F for higher education affordability in a new “Measuring Up” report released this week by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.
And California’s grade—a C—comes primarily because the state has a robust community college system that’s basically free, Patrick Kelly, a senior associate for the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, told attendees of an education policy workshop at The Council of State Governments' annual meeting in Omaha Dec. 4.
“There were major declines across the board in affordability,” Kelly said. And any gains in affordability are not keeping up. In fact, Kelly said, tuition and fees are increasing at rates higher than any other economic measure.
And, higher education’s share of the state budget has continually declined for the past 20 to 40 years, according to Larry Isaak, president of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact. He said tuition increased 439 percent in the past 25 years, increasing the burden of paying for college for low and middle income families as well as the student debt upon leaving college.
Affordability isn’t the only problem states are facing when it comes to education. States need to draw more students into college and help them attain degrees. The U.S. is falling behind other countries in educating the younger population at a time when a more educated work force is needed to compete in the global marketplace, Kelly said.
“Not only are we slipping, but there are areas in the world making substantial progress in educating young adults,” Kelly said.
In fact, Isaak estimated the U.S. will need 15 million more postsecondary educated citizens in the next 15 years in addition to the numbers produced now.
“We’re facing a period of urgent care needed in terms of how we look at things in this country,” said Isaak. “If we’re going to compete as a country … it’s going to require an educated work force.”
Isaak suggested collective leadership involving everyone from governors to legislators and faculty to students is needed in each state to resolve their individual problems. Among other strategies Isaak suggested:
Align curriculums so students enter college fully prepared;
- Change the cultural perception of a campus from a place to go to a place that provides learning;
- Make productivity, with incentives for students and institutions, a centerpiece of the policy;
- Help adults who are short a few credits to obtain those credits and finish the degree; and
- Make strategic investments rather than one-size-fits-all budgeting.