Study Finds MD Students Prepared for College, but It Costs Them

Maryland does a good job preparing students for college, but the state needs to offer more help to low-income and minority families, said a report released today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Students succeed on Advanced Placement exams and college entrance tests, said the study, "Measuring Up 2006," which grades states in five areas.

However, paying tuition, room and board has become difficult, especially for low-income families, the report said. Maryland rated an F in affordability, the same as the last report in 2004.

"For most American families, college affordability has continued to deteriorate," said James B. Hunt Jr., chairman of the non-profit center's board of directors and former governor of North Carolina.

The share of family income required to pay for a year of college has continued to escalate for all but the wealthiest families. And financial aid for qualified students who can't afford college has not kept pace with tuition increases," Hunt said in a press release.

Maryland families in the lowest income bracket, those averaging $15,000 annually, would have had to set aside 62 percent of their earnings to cover community college costs and 79 percent of their earnings to cover costs at public four-year colleges in 2005. It would cost almost double their incomes to attend a private, four-year school.

Costs are computed by figuring tuition, room, and board and deducting any financial aid.

Middle-income families earning $60,862 on average, would have had to save 17 percent of their earnings for community college, 22 percent for public four-year colleges and 42 percent for private four-year schools.

Those in the highest income group, families averaging $161,046, would have had to put aside 6 percent of their earnings for community college, 9 percent for public four-year colleges, and 16 percent for private four-year colleges.

"Over the past several years, the state has increased its investment in need-based financial aid," the report said. "Nonetheless, the share of family income, even after financial aid, needed to pay for college is large when compared with other states."

California and Utah received the highest grades in affordability, earning a C- each.

Maryland is taking steps to make college more affordable in addition to investing more in need-based aid, officials said.

State funding increased by 15 to 16 percent in public four-year colleges and will increase by about the same percentage in community colleges next year, said Barbara Ash, research director at the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.

That increase enabled public four-year colleges to freeze tuition for Maryland undergraduates this academic year.

"We may not have done so well this time around but I'm betting the report card for 2008 . . . we should see some dramatic improvement," Ash said.

In other areas, the state earned good marks, with little change since the 2004 report. The center assigns grades after comparing each state to the state that did the best in a given category.

Maryland received an A- for preparation, a category that evaluates the K-12 system.

According to the report, over 75 percent of seventh-to-12th-graders have teachers who majored in the subject they are teaching, "which compares very

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