WASHINGTON – Maryland is doing a better job of preparing its students for college, but the number attending has fallen since 2000 and the state’s higher education is still relatively expensive when compared to other states.
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education on Wednesday gave Maryland a grade of B+ in the categories of college preparation and enrollment, but a D- in affordability.
The report, which rated all 50 states, also gave Maryland a B- in graduation rates and an A for benefits, a category measuring the number of state residents with degrees and the impact of that.
Maryland’s grade for affordability fell from a D in the 2000 report to a D- this year, even though the percentage of family income needed to pay for college fell. But other states outperformed Maryland when it came to affordability.
“We’re on target, but we need to do much better in terms of affordability,” said Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, a member of the center’s board.
Rawlings, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in Annapolis, said the state is still not doing enough to provide access to higher education for all students.
“My concern is that student access to higher education not be predetermined and based on money,” he said.
Walinda West, a spokeswoman at the Maryland Higher Education Commission, said that while few states did well in affordability, the quality of a Maryland education remains strong.
“If you take a look at the economic condition around the country, a lot of the states slipped in that area,” West said. “But when you take a look at what the state offers, students get an education that is unparalleled.”
She said the average undergraduate tuition at Maryland public institutions in fiscal 2001 was $4,704 for residents. St. Mary’s College had the highest undergraduate in-state tuition at $7,360, and Coppin State University had the lowest at $3,370.
Rawlings compared the drop in the state’s affordability grade to “the student in the class who always messed up the curve” — in this case, California was that student. While Maryland’s poorest residents had to pay 15 percent of their income to attend the cheapest schools in the state, California’s poorest needed only 3 percent of their income for the cheapest college.
In Maryland, the reliance on loans as a form of financial aid dropped from an average of $4,121 in the 2000 report to $3,703 this year, but that was still higher than states with the most affordable colleges.
There were some bright spots in the report for Maryland.
The percentage of eighth graders who performed well on national math assessment tests improved, as did the number of low-income students who perform well on the test. Maryland also had more students score in the top 20 percent on college entrance exams and advanced placement classes.
But the number of Maryland high school freshman who had enrolled in college — in any state — within four years dropped from 43 percent to 41 percent. Massachusetts led the nation with a 54 percent enrollment rate.
The number of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolling in college dropped from 42 percent to 35 percent in Maryland. Connecticut was best in the nation, with 43 percent of that age group enrolling.
University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan said the report card should serve as a wake-up call to state educators and lawmakers. It will be hard to improve that grade if state funds for higher education continue to be cut, he said.
“Nobody likes to get a D-, but it does buttress the case for promoting higher education,” Kirwan said. “One thing that is clear, is that there is not going to be any significant increase in funding given the state’s economy.”