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Published: Wednesday, 12/3/2008

Michigan, Ohio fail college affordability on national report card

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Nearly every state - including Ohio and Michigan - flunked a national report card when it comes to college affordability.

For Ohio and Michigan, it was the third consecutive time the states received F grades for not making higher education affordable for families.

The "Measuring Up 2008" report released today listed California as the only affordable state to attend college, giving it a C- grade.

The report, released every two years, is conducted by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in San Jose, Calif.

In 2006, 43 states failed college affordability and 36 flunked in 2004.

"In a sense, the headline for this is we're losing our international leadership, we've made only modest progress, and on affordability, the whole country has gone south," said Pat Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Ohio is in the second year of no tuition increases in exchange for additional funding from the state, but that wasn't enough to raise its grade.

In fact, the report card notes that higher education has become less affordable for students and their families since the 2006 report.

The key factor the national center uses when compiling its affordability ranking is how much of a family's income is spent on college.

For the 40 percent of Ohio's population with the lowest incomes, the report found that 44 percent of the families' income was needed to pay for community college and 57 percent for a public four-year university.

"I'm not surprised most of the country gets failing grades," University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs said.

"I think as a country, set aside California for a moment, the country should get failing grades for higher education and we do, so there's no surprise there."

Dr. Jacobs said tuition costs have been outpacing inflation for a number of years and until two years ago, when Ohio froze tuition, nobody had done anything.

"If we truly believe, and I do, that education is the most certain pathway to a full life and prosperous life - if we truly believe that - we need to do something about this," he said.

The report also graded states in four other areas - preparation, participation, completion, and benefits.

Preparation measures how well the state prepares students for college; participation ranks its progress in enrolling students in higher education. The completion category tracks whether students receive degrees in a timely manner; benefits relates to the state's rewards for having a more educated population.

Ohio and Michigan both stayed the same or increased in those areas, earning Bs and Cs.

Michael Chaney, spokesman for the Ohio Board of Regents, said he's encouraged by some aspects of the report, such as the benefits section that shows a recognition of higher education as an important factor in the economic wealth of the state.

Ohio got a C+ for that category.

The report noted that if all racial and ethnic groups had the same educational attainment and earnings, the total annual personal income in the state would be about $10 billion higher.

Still, affordability remains the big issue for the country and the state.

And while Mr. Chaney noted the data might not fully reflect the impact that not raising tuition for two years had on college affordability, the numbers show that's not the only answer.

"Even if you do hold the line, like we have for the last two years, we've had declining incomes and I imagine that's impacting a lot of states, not just us," he said.

The national center recommends states establish policies for tuition and student aid that balance the financial burden among the states, institutions, and students and families.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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