WASHINGTON – Maryland high school graduates are better prepared for college than they were a decade ago, and are going to and finishing college at a higher rate than students in most other states, according to a report released Wednesday.
But the survey by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education also said that higher education in Maryland, as in most other states, has become less affordable over the past decade.
“Measuring Up 2004” graded states in five or six areas, from preparation for college and enrollment to affordability and completion rates, among others.
The report card gave Maryland an A- for preparing students to succeed in college-level work.
But the state got an F for affordability, as increases in tuition have outstripped the growth in available financial aid and as more students are competing for that aid.
Part of the reason is the state’s budget pinch, said Chesapeake College President Stuart Bounds. Tuition at his community college in Queen Anne’s County has increased 21.5 percent over the last five years.
“Costs are rising faster than financial aid is able to keep up with these costs,” Bounds said. “Because of the state’s fiscal crisis, we’ve certainly seen a sharp decline in our state funding relative to our enrollment growth.”
And community colleges are relatively affordable: The report said low- and middle-income students currently spend about a third of their annual income to attend a two-year college in Maryland, as opposed to 40 percent for a four-year school.
“Nobody wants to get an F in any circumstances,” said University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan, of the affordability grade.
Kirwan expects recommendations next month from a system task force “on how we can make the most of the resources we have and ensure that we’re doing all we can to provide students with the aid they need.”
In the meantime, Kirwan said he is pressing the state and the university system to redirect college aid from merit-based programs to needs-based programs.
He and others said the increasing cost is one of the largest barriers to college for low-income students, at a time when more of them are seeking admission.
“We anticipate an increase of between 25 and 30 percent in demand for higher education over the next five or six years,” Kirwan said.
“The demand is disproportionately from low-income and minority students,” he said. “When you have a huge increase in . . . demand coming from younger people at the lower end of the economic ladder, you have a situation that could be called a crisis.”
Although the percentage of minority students who complete their bachelor’s degrees rose from 76 percent of those who enroll to 84 percent in the past decade, the report said a wide gap remains between whites and minorities.
The report also found that in Maryland over the last decade:
— Eighth-graders are getting higher scores on national math and writing tests, but lower scores in science.
— Twice as many of the state’s high school juniors and seniors took Advanced Placement tests, and 25 percent scored at least a 3 out of 5, up from 11 percent in 1994.
— Seventy-five percent of middle and high school students now have teachers who majored in the subjects they teach, making Maryland one of the five most-improved states in providing qualified teachers.
— The percentage of Maryland 18 to 24-year-olds enrolled in college has increased from 29 percent to 36 percent, even as the high school dropout rate has increased slightly.
— More than 5 percent of adults ages 25 to 49 have enrolled as part-time students in college-level education or training, a decline since 1994.
— Of students going to college, 62 percent graduated in six years or less, slightly higher than before.
— Eighty-five percent of college freshmen in Maryland returned for their sophomore years, one of the largest rates of return in the country.
“If the economy improves and the state’s fiscal picture improves, I think the governor is certainly well aware of the issue, I think everybody is at least committed in principle to try to contain the cost of higher education,” Bounds said. “The jobs in the future economy are going to require some level of higher education.”
But Kirwan said that state support will be necessary if the grades are to improve on the next report card.
“It’s also going to require a renewed investment on the part of the state if we’re going to have both higher quality and affordable institutions in the state of Maryland,” he said.
-30- CNS 09-15-04