College too costly for low-income

Associated Press

A new study being released today on the skyrocketing cost of higher education says there are only five states where all the four-year public colleges are affordable for low-income students, and in many of those, the students still need to borrow money to get by.

In a third of all states, low-income students need loans even to attend some two-year community colleges, the study found.

Only in Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kentucky and Wyoming are all four-year public colleges affordable for low-income people, it said.

The findings of the year-old Lumina Foundation for Education have sparked sharp criticism from higher education groups.

The foundation rated nearly 3,000 colleges and universities, and said that while at least half the public four-year schools in 40 states are financially manageable for median-income students, those students often need loans.

Critics complained that the study flies in the face of reality: 15 million people from all income levels attend college at two- and four-year schools. They also charged that the study risks discouraging those who might benefit most from a college degree.

Lumina’s vice president for research, Jerry Davis, said the study focuses on the hardships imposed by paying for college.

"We’re saying students and families must make inordinate financial sacrifices to attend those schools," Davis said. The struggle to afford college leads some to quit, he said.

Davis said he had hoped that higher education officials would use the study to help secure more state and federal aid for students.

The study used 1998 federal statistics on income, enrollment and financial aid, among other factors. It looked at four income groups: low- and median-income students still dependent on parents’ income, and independent students ages 25-34 with low or median incomes.

Higher education groups said the study’s methods were flawed and could put people off the idea of college or certain institutions.

"Enrollments go up every single year," said Terry Hartle, vice president of the American Council on Education. "If this is correct, there are a lot of people in higher education that aren’t supposed to be there."

Hartle lauded Lumina’s effort but said it would reinforce mistaken assumptions. Surveys find the public tends to overestimate the cost of a college education, he said.

David Warren, head of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said the report "misrepresents reality, misleads readers, and harms the very families the foundation is trying to help."

The topic of cost is "probably one of the touchiest policy issues in higher education right now," said Travis Reindl, state policy director at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Still, Reindl said it was unfair for the study to label specific schools as "unaffordable."

The Lumina Foundation report released today calculated the percentage of public and private colleges (including two- and four-year schools) that cost too much for low-income students dependent on parental income. This lists states from highest cost to lowest cost.

Vermont: 86 percent

District of Columbia: 80 percent

New Hampshire: 74 percent

Massachusetts: 66 percent

Delaware: 62 percent

Rhode Island: 60 percent

Missouri: 51 percent

Michigan: 51 percent

Florida: 50 percent

Tennessee: 50 percent

Iowa: 49 percent

West Virginia: 48 percent

Ohio: 46 percent

Nebraska: 44 percent

Pennsylvania: 44 percent

Nevada: 43 percent

South Dakota: 42 percent

Maine: 39 percent

New York: 38 percent

Kansas: 35 percent

Montana: 35 percent

South Carolina: 35 percent

Kentucky: 33 percent

Wisconsin: 32 percent

Illinois: 31 percent

OREGON: 31 percent

Virginia: 31 percent

Indiana: 30 percent

North Carolina: 29 percent

Utah: 27 percent

New Jersey: 26 percent

Alabama: 25 percent

Maryland: 24 percent

Oklahoma: 24 percent

Colorado: 23 percent

Hawaii: 23 percent

Minnesota: 23 percent

California: 22 percent

Georgia: 22 percent

Idaho: 22 percent

Connecticut: 21 percent

North Dakota: 21 percent

Alaska: 20 percent

Texas: 19 percent

Arizona: 17 percent

Mississippi: 17 percent

Louisiana: 14 percent

New Mexico: 14 percent

WASHINGTON: 14 percent

Arkansas: 13 percent

Wyoming: 0 percent (all schools affordable)

Copyright ©2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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