8. Postsecondary Education and Access, Affordability
A student entering a public university today can expect to spend $33,300 over four years in tuition and fees. One day, that amount could seem like a bargain.
By the time today’s newborns are ready to enroll in college, the cost of tuition and fees at a public university could approach $100,000, based on annual increases of 6 percent annually, according to The College Board.
That organization says tuition increased at private colleges by 4.5 percent in 2010-11, but nearly doubled that amount at public colleges and universities. These increases, if they continue, threaten to prevent access to postsecondary education for those from low- and middle-income families.
Noted labor economist Tony Carnevale at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has made this point quite clearly. He estimates that by 2018, 63 percent of all of the nation’s jobs will require some form of postsecondary education or training. That’s a view shared by many of the nation’s leading education and economic development experts.
“We know that people who have access to postsecondary education over their lifetime earn more money,” Illinois Rep. Roger Eddy said. “They make contributions, become more passionate, become more motivated in their life, and I believe it makes for better communities.
“So we should be concerned about opportunities, and in our global society, especially now, we should be concerned that those opportunities exist, because people are likely to change careers, which is going to cause them a need to have some type of additional education,” said Eddy. “So it becomes more important that we have capacity to re-train people.”
Eric Fingerhut, the former chancellor of the Ohio State University system, pointed out that during the recession, the overall unemployment rate hovered around 9 percent. For people with bachelor’s degrees, the unemployment rate exceeded 5 percent during only two months.
Fingerhut said state governments rely on those with degrees—who typically earn more money and pay higher taxes—to support a wide array of state programs.
“So you simply can’t afford not to have people at the upper end of the income scale, and that is exactly what you get with higher education,” he said.
Studies show the U.S. needs to produce more college graduates—a lot more—in order to retain its global competitiveness. Some estimate the U.S. will require an additional 15 million people with bachelor’s degrees by 2020. But the economic recession is resulting is less state support for postsecondary education and in some cases, a drop in the amount of need-based financial aid.
During 2011, state legislatures have considered numerous ways to make higher education more affordable by addressing costs and student financial aid issues.
2011 was a year of ups and downs for the so-called “Dream Act,” which provides in-state tuition or scholarships and other forms of financial aid for students who are undocumented immigrants graduating from in-state high schools. The legislation, which has been adopted in 13 states, appears on the verge of enactment in California after the Senate approved the measure in September 2011.
Maryland legislators also approved the Dream Act in 2011. Its version requires undocumented immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition at a two-year college before being allowed to enroll in a four-year institution at in-state rates. However, a petition drive has forced the issue on the ballot and threatens to scuttle the new law.
Among other noteworthy laws addressing postsecondary education access and affordability enacted in 2011:
Arizona enacted House Bill 2410, which grants in-state tuition to any person honorably discharged from the armed forces. Similarly, Utah’s Senate Bill 46 grants in-state tuition to children of active duty military personnel;
Maryland’s House Bill 104 provides a tuition waiver up to six credit hours per semester at a community college for people who are unemployed as a result of disabilities;
Since the start of 2010, at least seven states have enacted legislation to make the cost of textbooks more affordable. One example is Utah’s Senate Bill 69, adopted in March 2011, which provides tax relief for the cost of a textbook used in a higher education course.