Minn. is third in college costs

by Lacey Crisp

If U.S. higher-education institutions were students, a “C-” on their report cards would put them near the top of the class in some subjects.

That’s the grade Minnesota received for college affordability in a report released this month, and it was the third-best grade of 50 states ranked.

The nonprofit National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education publishes its report card of states every two years. It grades schools based on preparation for college, participation, affordability, completion and benefits.

Phil Lewenstein, director of communication at the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office, said he is happy about the state’s ranking.

“The challenge and concern now is how to maintain and raise our grades,” Lewenstein said.

He said the grade reflects the importance the state puts on education.

“Access to higher education is something that is built into this state’s values,” Lewenstein said.

In the past, Minnesota has received better grades from the study. In 2002, the state got a “B,” and in 2000 it received an “A.”

University Office of Admissions Director Wayne Sigler said he and other University officials are “very concerned” about rising tuition at the University and said officials are doing all they can to keep tuition prices down.

“The University has first been looking inside for cost savings and operating efficiencies, and are not simply looking to students to offset the costs lost in state funding,” Sigler said.

He said the University’s scholarship drive is one example of such an attempt to keep costs down. He also said University faculty and staff did not receive a pay increase last year and had to pay more in health care.

“We’re looking at other things very hard before we go to the option of raising tuition,” Sigler said.

Lewenstein said studies, such as the National Report Card for Higher Education, can be very useful.

“I think it’s one tool by which policy makers can see how we are doing compared to other states,” Lewenstein said. “It identifies areas that the state needs to focus on in the future.”

Only two schools beat Minnesota in the category of affordability. California received a “B” and Utah was given a “C.”

“Clearly, prices have been rising significantly in the past 10 to 12 years, but we also advise people to keep things in perspective of the economy,” Lewenstein said.

The report also said the state has a low ethnic and minority enrollment rate.

“They point out issues that we need to be concerned about, such as the gap in educational achievement between races,” Lewenstein said.

– Amy Horst contributed to this article.