STUDY: CONNECTICUT RANKS 21ST IN COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY

Story courtesy of 

Linda Conner Lambeck, The Connecticut Post

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — It is no longer possible to work one’s way through state college without incurring debt, according to a new study on college affordability.

It would take 49 hours a week, on average, at a minimum wage job in Connecticut to pay the net full-time price at the University of Connecticut, the state’s research institution, according to a 2016 College Affordability Diagnosis.

And while Connecticut has some of the most affordable two-year colleges in the nation, according to the report, the steep price tag of four-year private colleges is enough to bring the state down to a mediocre overall showing. It is ranked 21st in the nation.

Attending a private four-year college in the state would require 68 hours a week of minimum wage to pay for the average year’s net cost.

“The cost of college has gone from expensive to unaffordable for most low- and middle-income families,” Joni E. Finney, director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the report’s authors.

Finney said the analysis is intended as a wake-up call.

Patrick Callahan, another one of the report’s authors, said the report is designed to give policy makers ammunition in trying to bring down costs.

Students like Aijah Threats, a sophomore at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury is already awake.

“Looking at my future of loans is bleak,” Threats, a paralegal student, said. “It’s like I’m getting a lot of money but then sending it back.”

Her hope is that the salary her intended field will yield will be able to get her through the loans.

Brandon Murphy, a Stratford resident who just transferred from Gateway Community College to Western is more than concerned.

“I’m very scared to get out of college and not find a job immediately,” said Murphy, who is a sports psychology major.

The idea behind the study was not to look at average college costs and student loan debt but to determine the real impact of college cost on a family’s income based on where they live and what is readily available to them in their home state.

The study ranked Connecticut 21st in the nation on the affordability of attending college. The ranking took an average of the cost of every college in the state, compared to the average family income.

The sticker price to attend UConn, the state’s flagship school, next fall is nearly $28,000 for in-state residential students, but researchers for the study used a different measure — “net” cost — which factored in what students in various income brackets would pay after average student grants and scholarship aid are factored.

The lower the family income, the more aid a student will likely get and the lower their “net” cost. But, families earning less still end up paying a bigger percentage of their overall income to pay for higher education.

A family in the state earning $30,000 or less would need to devote 15 percent of its income to attend community colleges like Housatonic or Norwalk. That percentage makes the state the sixth most affordable in the nation for junior college.

By contrast, a family earning $110,000 or more would have to devote just five percent of its income toward college costs. According to the study, 35 percent of families in Connecticut make that much while just 15 percent make $30,000 or less.

To attend a public university like Western in Danbury or Southern in New Haven, the family making $30,000 or less would have to use 30 percent of its income in the state. To attend UConn would take 36 percent and a private, four-year school like Sacred Heart or Fairfield University, up to 56 percent. And at private research institutions like Yale, the percentage of family income is 37 percent, compared to 50 percent five years ago.

In Connecticut, the study shows the percentage of family income needed to attend college has increased since 2008 at all but private research institutions, like Yale.

“The deck is stacked against low and middle income Americans,” the report concludes.

Paul Broadie II, president at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, where tuition and fees this fall are up to $4,052 before financial aid is calculated, said affordability is a focus of the system.

“That is what has helped make the system among the most affordable in the nation,” Broadie said.

He acknowledges some students need to work while attending school but encourages them to seek jobs that are flexible and sensitive to the students’ academic demands.

He also pointed out that attending a two-year college on the way to a bachelor’s degree can reduce the overall costs. That is why articulation agreements that prevent students from wasting credits, are so important.

Maribel La Luz, director of communications for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities that oversees both the community colleges and regional universities agrees college tuition poses a real challenge to students and potential students.

“It’s why we do everything possible to offset some of the costs,” she said. “CSCU colleges and universities have an ‘open admission’ policy so anyone can attend. We are working hard to reduce both the cost of education and the time to degree for students.

According to the study, one third of the state’s college students are at two-year schools and about 48 percent of working-age residents have an associate degree. That is higher than the national average of 40 percent, but still not enough.

By 2020, the researchers estimate that 70 percent of jobs in the state will require at least an associate degree.

The state, they added, is not helping the situation. Connecticut contributes below the national average for per-pupil student financial aid. The state shells out $290 per student in need-based financial aid for students to attend public colleges and universities, compared to a national average of $474.

The report also suggests that students are picking up a bigger chunk of the cost of public higher costs. In 2014, what students paid amounted to 52 percent of the cost of a public higher education compared to 30 percent in 2000.

“I wish they would do more to help,” Jessica Mooney, from Ansonia said. Mooney just graduated with a nursing degree. They make good money, she concedes.

“I still think it’s going to be difficult,’ Mooney said.

Information from: Connecticut Post, http://www.connpost.com