State's college costs fail the test

EDUCATION BEAT

Report: A study gives Maryland an `F' for affordability, but better scores in other areas.

September 19, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

I DON'T know how many education groups issue report cards judging the work of school districts and states. It's a great attention-getter -- we all understand the A-through-F grading system. More often than not, however, such report cards are self-serving.

Not so those issued by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonpartisan think tank founded in 1998 by, among others, the late Maryland Del. Howard P. Rawlings.

The center's latest publication, Measuring Up 2004: The National Report Card on Higher Education, covers elementary and secondary education as well. And that's as it should be. Higher ed and "K to 12," as it is known, are joined at the hip, although in many states the top half of the body doesn't know or care what the bottom half is doing.

Maryland's Measuring Up grades are mixed. Along with 35 other states, among them New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Free State gets a failing grade for higher education affordability.

That's not only because of the tuition increases of the past couple of years. "Maryland, over the past decade, has made no notable progress in providing affordable higher education," the report says.

This is a worrisome trend, says William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. Maryland has a high college participation rate -- it gets an A for participation on the center's report card. But Kirwan says the state will need to find room for a record 12 percent bulge in enrollment over the next few years -- an increase from 100,000 students to 112,000.

"That's 12,000 -- bigger than all but one or two of our campuses," says Kirwan, "and these new students will tend to be disproportionately minority and low-income. We'll have to find places for them and the means to help them pay their tuition."

Yet the Measuring Up report says Maryland's investment in need-based student aid "is very low when compared with top- performing states, and Maryland does not offer low-priced college opportunities."

Another A comes in a category known as "benefits." Maryland has a highly educated population, and the state's percentage of residents with a bachelor's degree has increased substantially over the past decade. This, of course, translates directly into economic benefits.

The state's college completion rate, however, earns a barely respectable B-minus. Maryland public schools, the report says, are doing a good job preparing students for college by a number of measures, among them the percentage of qualified teachers, number of students taking Advanced Placement courses and number of minorities earning diplomas.

But only 62 percent of first-time, full-time college students in Maryland earn a degree within six years, and only 52 percent of first-year community college students return for a second year.

Completion rates are important, and all states are struggling with the issue. The college degree has replaced the high school diploma as the gateway to career success. Since colleges aren't judged by how many widgets they manufacture and sell, the completion rate amounts to their return on investment.

Taxpayers and politicians are asking hard questions about graduation rates and other measures of a school's quality. As tuition soars, people want to know whether they're getting what they pay for.

`Mind-set' list is life as freshmen know it

Beloit College in Wisconsin is out with its seventh annual "mind-set" list for this year's U.S. college freshmen, most of whom were born in 1986. Here are a few of my favorites:

Photographs have always been processed in an hour or less. Baby Jessica could be a classmate. Harry has always known Sally. Martha Stewart has always been cooking up something with someone. There have always been night games at Wrigley Field.

Castro has always been an aging politician in a suit. They have always been comfortable with gay characters on television. There have never been any Playboy Clubs. Bethlehem has never been a place of peace at Christmas.

St. Ignatius Loyola seeks morning tutorial director

St. Ignatius Loyola Academy in downtown Baltimore is looking for a director/recruiter for a free Saturday morning tutorial in language arts and math for Baltimore City fifth-grade boys from families in poverty. A small stipend is involved. Contact Headmaster Jeff Sindler.

Baltimore Free University registration is today

People who want to meet the instructors and register for the Baltimore Free University can do so today from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Levering's Little Theatre at the Johns Hopkins University. Nineteen courses are offered this fall, each for $10.

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