The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gives U.S. failing grade

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    By Andrew Damstedt

    The nation received a failing grade in affordability of higher education from a national report card released earlier this month.

    The study, “Measuring Up 2004,” grades states on their performance in public and private universities in five different areas: participation, preparation, completion, benefits and affordability.

    The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which published the report, measures affordability by whether students and families can afford to pay for higher education given income levels, financial aid and the types of colleges and universities in the state.

    “For most Americans, college has become less affordable over the last decade,” said James B. Hunt, chair of the National Center”s Board of Directors. “At a time when we should be encouraging eligible students to attend college, we are making it more difficult for potential students and their families to afford college. This is a wake-up call for the nation, the states, and our colleges and universities.”

    Utah was among only three states that received a grade higher than a D in affordability. California received a B. Utah and Minnesota both received a C.

    The report found tuition has increased faster than the incomes of most American families. Utah has stayed consistent in keeping the costs of college, after financial aid, within the incomes of most families. Low and middle-income students in Utah still pay 25% of their annual family income on college costs.

    BYU”s undergraduate tuition costs increased $130 this year for LDS students and for non-LDS students it increased by $180. Graduate students tuition increased $80 from last year.

    The trend is with college costs increasing more students go into debt, said Paul Conrad, director of financial aid. When compared nationally, BYU students incur a fairly low amount of debt and most students repay those loans.

    One of the goals of the financial aid office at BYU is to teach students to make important financial decisions in their college career, Conrad said.

    “College is one of the biggest financial mountains that you are going to climb,” Conrad said.

    The U.S. News and World Report, in a report released in August, listed BYU along with Utah State University and the University of Utah, as one of the top 25 schools that graduate students with the least amount of debt.

    The trend is with college costs increasing more students go into debt, Conrad said. When compared nationally BYU students incur a fairly low amount of debt and most students repay those loans.

    Tuition increases every year to keep up with the costs of the university, said Crystal Smith, accounting specialist with student financial services.

    Tuition at BYU is low for a private university because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints subsidizes each student”s education.

    Universities around the state have seen an increase in college costs over the past few years.

    “The state has costs that are going up in different areas and the state doesn”t have the tax funds to meet every need,” said Mark Spencer, associate state commissioner for finance and facilities.

    Tuition isn”t going to get cheaper anytime soon. The Utah State Board of Regents decided last March to increase college tuition for Utah”s nine colleges and universities by 9.3 percent.

    “Even a nine percent increase is low compared to other states,” Spencer said. “We try to keep the increase modest.”

    Other universities around Utah have proposed increases for their tuition rates in addition to the increase imposed by the state.

    Utah State University President Kermit Hall has proposed an increase of 36 percent over the next four years.

    The University of Utah and Utah Valley State College have also approved college tuition increases in the last year.

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