Higher Ed in Minn. harder to afford

Charles Peterson, a University of Minnesota sociology junior, is taking a leave of absence next semester because he didnâÄôt get enough loans from filling out his Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Although he said heâÄôll take some classes at a technical college to keep him on track for graduation, heâÄôs hoping he can save enough money for school in the meantime and avoid this problem in the future. Peterson is just one of many students in Minnesota affected by high tuition costs, which has also become a national problem, according to a report released last week by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, or NCPPHE. While Minnesota has improved in other areas, every state in the report except for California scored an âÄòFâÄô on the issue of affordability. Darcie Harvey, policy analyst for the NCPPHE, said Minnesota âÄúlags the national trendâÄù when it comes to family ability to pay for college. The percentage of income needed to pay for public four-year colleges in Minnesota, minus financial aid, has risen from 17 percent of a familyâÄôs income in 2000 to 30 percent in 2008 âÄì worse than the U.S. average, which is 28 percent. Nationwide, college tuition and fees rose 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, while family income rose only 147 percent. âÄúIncome is not keeping pace with the rising tuition and fees,âÄù Harvey said. Although the national data doesnâÄôt take inflation into account, Harvey said growth of the Consumer Price Index, the standard measure for inflation, simply doesnâÄôt match up with the growth of tuition fees. Minnesota has been improving in other areas, however. The number of young adults enrolled in college in Minnesota is up from previous years, the report found, and Minnesota is a âÄútop performerâÄù when it comes to students enrolling by the age of 19, although fewer working-age adults are enrolled. Minnesota also scored an A in the category of completion âÄî 60 percent of college students in Minnesota complete a bachelorâÄôs degree within six years, the report said. Nevertheless, the University remains the most debt-ridden institution in the Big Ten. The average University graduate leaves school with nearly $25,000 in debt. Minnesota Office of Higher Education data showed that the average aid received for incoming freshmen at public four-year colleges was $3,320, compared to the $5,300 average net tuition. University Senior Analyst Peter Zetterberg, whoâÄôs been at the University since 1981 , said tuition increases usually donâÄôt match inflation. âÄúIn general, tuition tends to spike when the economy is bad,âÄù he said. âÄúWhen state budgets get bad âĦ higher education is one of the first things to see reduced funding.âÄù The projected state deficit is $5.2 billion, announced Thursday, and higher education was not one of the three priorities Pawlenty listed as staying safe from the chopping block. State Senator Chuck Wiger , education committee chair , said the Legislature has been discussing several options to make higher education more affordable in the state. One of those, he said, is to increase the number of opportunities for students to get college credit while theyâÄôre still in high school. âÄúWe need to do more in that area,âÄù he said, âÄúso that hopefully students can have a half year or more of their undergraduate degree earned before theyâÄôve graduated high school.âÄù Wiger mentioned online learning as another opportunity that can be less expensive, in terms of both time and money. Although the report spells bad news for Minnesota, Harvey said she hopes policymakers and the public look into whatâÄôs working and whatâÄôs not. âÄúWe would encourage states to look at all levels of the education system,âÄù Harvey said.