State Education Panel Seeks Answers on College Affordability
A State Board of Education panel asked for input and received plenty of it from concerned administrators and students during a public hearing on college affordability and access at the College’s Center for Business and Industry on Oct. 22.
"The financial crisis sweeping over our economy has exacerbated a decade-old issue: the rising cost of a college education and the declining ability of more and more students to access higher education opportunties," President Curtis said in prepared testimony delivered by Samuel Hirsh, vice president for Student Affairs, before the Council of Higher Education of the State Board of Education.
President Curtis, who was unable to attend because of a previous engagement, noted that the United States can no longer boast of having the best educated populace in the world, as it did a generation ago. Today, America ranks 10th among industrialized nations in the percentage of citizens ages 25 to 34 with college degrees. If the cost of higher education continues to outpace growth in average household income, America can fall even further behind in the education race, he warned.
Cities like Philadelphia, where one in four residents lives in poverty, already are reeling from the consequences of an under-educated citzenry, President Curtis said. "Our city and our country will continue to fall behind our global competitors unless something is done to make a post-secondary education more affordable and accessible to citizens," he said.
Although community colleges are less expensive than traditional four-year schools, their tuition and fees are rising at an alarming pace creating barriers for economically vulnerable students like Allyson Triplett.
Triplett, a Nursing student at the College, told the panel that she was thrilled when she was accepted into the College’s Nursing program, but paying for it has proven far more challenging than she anticipated. "I had no idea how many extra costs there were," Triplett said. Out-of-pocket costs for course fees, textbooks, nursing uniforms, liability insurance, criminal background checks and other items added up to at least $3,300, the 39-year-old former dancer testified.
Triplett works part-time, but has had to take out student loans to supplement her state and federal financial aid. "When I graduate in May, I will have to repay more than $11,000 in loans," she said.
About 30 people attended the hearing, which was one of five held around the state by the Council of Higher Education to gather insight from people closest to the issue: students, parents, and higher-education officials.
The panel was especially interested in the issue of student loans, whether students and their families feel overly burdened by the amount of borrowing and whether this affects their choice of a college major or career. The panel also sought information on the use of private sources, such as home equity loans and credit cards to pay for college.
"The frustrating thing is there’s this confluence of issues, which, if you had any of them separately, you could figure it out," said Joseph M. Torsella, chairman of the Council of Higher Education, which develops master plans for the state’s higher-education system.