Comparing college costs: MN vs. US

While tuition in Minnesota has risen in recent years, the state has fared better than the nation as a whole.

Luis Ruuska

This past Monday, I compared the cost of college affordability between the U.S. and several European countries, which got me wondering just how Minnesota ranks when it comes to college affordability nationwide.

To my surprise, I found that there are actually very few statistics available that compare education costs by state, but I discovered there was far more information pertaining to college affordability on a state-to-national basis.

The U.S. Department of Education released statistics concerning percentage changes in state spending indicators from the 2005-06 academic year to the 2010-11 academic year. The results are interesting, to say the least.

In this time period, in-state tuition and required fees steadily increased by an annual average of 4.9 percent for full-time, first-time undergraduate students in the U.S. Interestingly enough, the biggest increase  in tuition on a year-to-year basis — 7.7 percent to be exact — occurred from the 2009-10 to 2010-11 academic years, at the height of the
Great Recession.

While these numbers are pretty grim, students and faculty may be even more dismayed to learn that Minnesota actually fared slightly worse in terms of tuition costs than the rest of the country during the same period of time.

In-state tuition and required fees steadily increased by an annual average of 5.9 percent for full-time, first-time undergraduate Minnesota students. This is only about 1 percent more than the national numbers, but it is still quite significant. Like all U.S. students, Minnesota students saw the largest spike in tuition in the academic years following the Great Recession at 7.9 percent.

With that said, there is a silver lining to these numbers — for Minnesota students, anyway.

State and local grants still manage to rise for in-state undergraduate students in Minnesota in the face of adversity. Although there were several years between 2005 and 2011 when in-state spending on grants did decrease drastically, all in all, grant spending for undergraduate students still increased
annually by 6.9 percent on average.

These numbers are noticeably better at the state level than they are at the national level, where grant spending only increased by 4.4 percent annually on average during the same period of time.

So what can Minnesota students take away from all
of this information?

Simply that while tuition is higher than ever — largely due to the spike during the late 2000s — the Minnesota government virtually subsidized tuition by increasing the amount of money they put toward state and local public grants.

Although two-thirds of American students today are graduating with an average debt of more than $26,000, Minnesota students can take some pride in knowing that the Minnesota Legislature has at least made attempts to curb costs for its students. However, even they can only do so much.

If the nation is to see better college affordability across the board, it might consider taking a leaf out of Minnesota’s book and funding grants instead of trying to cut funding like the GOP did when it slashed Pell Grant funding by $5.7 billion in 2011.

The GOP must have seen a better use for that money in 2011; perhaps it was that $695.7 billion defense budget.