Colorado earns ‘F’ in college affordability

A new higher education scorecard gives the state fairly decent marks, but there’s definitely room for improvement, especially around tuition costs and closing the gap between white and Hispanic students.

First the good news from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which released the annual “Measuring Up” evaluation of national and state post-secondary performance.

Colorado scores:

Preparation: A-
How well are high school students prepared to enroll in higher education and succeed in college-level courses?

Colorado performs well in preparing its young people for college, but there are large gaps by ethnicity.

• High school students score well on Advanced Placement tests, and Colorado is the top state in student performance on college entrance exams.

Participation: C+
Do young people and working-age adults have access to opportunities for education and training beyond high school?

College opportunities for Colorado residents are only fair.

• The likelihood of enrolling in college by age 19 is fairly low, but a fairly high percentage of working-age adults are enrolled in higher education.

Completion: B-
Do students persist in and complete certificate and degree programs in college?

Colorado performs fairly well — and has improved — in awarding certificates and degrees relative to the number of students enrolled.

• Fifty-three percent of college students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.

Benefits: B+
How do college-educated and trained residents contribute to the economic
and civic well-being of each state?

A large proportion of residents have a bachelor’s degree, but gaps by race and ethnicity persist.

• If all racial/ethnic groups had the same educational attainment and earnings as whites, total annual personal income in the state would be about $10 billion higher.

Not bad but it gets a little dicier when the report examines college costs, where Colorado, and every other state in the union other than California, earned an “F” grade.

Click the image for a larger view.

Click the image for a larger view.

The “Measuring Up” team notes that “the deterioration of college affordability throughout the United States has contributed to the disparities in higher education opportunity and attainment.” Specifically, tuition increases have vastly outpaced family income and household expenses, and student debt burdens have doubled over the last decade.

Affordability: F
How difficult is it to pay for college when family income, the cost of attending college, and student financial aid are taken into account?

Higher education has become less affordable for students and their families.

• Poor and working-class families must devote 43% of their income, even after aid, to pay for costs at public four-year colleges.
• Financial aid to low-income students is low. For every dollar in Pell Grant aid to students, the state spends only 41 cents.

The news is less encouraging for local Hispanic and non-traditional age students:

• 19% of Hispanic young adults are enrolled in college, compared with 41% of whites.
• 69% of Hispanics have a high school credential, compared with 92% of whites.
• 42% of Hispanics graduate within six years, compared with 56% of whites.
• 12% of Hispanics have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 42% of whites — one of the largest gaps in the nation.
• The percentage of high school graduates between 25 and 49 years old who do not already have a college degree and are enrolled in higher education declined from 12.2% a decade ago to 7.3 % in 2005.

The complete 2008 Measuring Up report can be downloaded in PDF format from the center’s Web site.

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Wendy Norris

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