State schools flunk when it comes to affordability


By Doris Haugen – Associated Press Writer

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – South Dakota has done a good job bringing more students into the higher education system but gets a failing grade for affordability, according to a national report card released Wednesday.

South Dakota families must spend “a large share” of their income on both public and private four-year colleges and universities, the National Center on Public Policy and Higher Education said in its “Measuring Up 2004” report.

Not counting financial aid, families spend an average of 23 percent of their income on expenses at public four-year institutions, an increase from 17 percent a decade ago, the study said.

The share of income needed to attend a four-year private college or university in South Dakota rose to 50 percent, up from 43 percent 10 years ago.

Harvey Jewett, president of the state Board of Regents, said tuition and fees at South Dakota’s six state-run universities are affordable.

The average bill for an undergraduate, resident student is $4,100 a year, and many programs are available to help offset that cost, he said.

But South Dakota doesn’t get favorable marks in affordability because of the way the report compares college costs with the average family income, said Jewett, of Aberdeen.

“Their measuring stick is not designed to give us kudos,” he said.

States received grades ranging from A to F in the report.

South Dakota and 36 other states got an F for affordability. Other areas studied were preparation, participation, completion, benefits and learning.

For many students in South Dakota, a new state-sponsored scholarship program will be a help, said Jewett.

The program started this fall and offers $5,000 in scholarships over four years to qualifying students attending vocational-technical schools and public or private colleges and universities in South Dakota.

“Should the state have better, more lucrative scholarships that are wider based? Absolutely,” said Jewett. “But we’re just starting here.”

South Dakota received its best grade, a B+, in participation, a category that measures whether residents have ample opportunity to enroll in education and training beyond high school.

When compared with other states, the chance of a South Dakota high school student going to college by age 19 was “very high even though the proportion of students who graduate from high school within four years is small,” the report said.

The study said 35 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college this year.

It also noted the proportion of working-age adults who take training beyond high school has increased by 16 percent, one of the sharpest increases among the states.

South Dakota earned a B in both preparation and completion. Preparation measures whether students are academically ready for college and completion evaluates how well students make progress toward completing their degrees.

The state received a C- in the benefits section of the report.

Twenty-seven percent of thosebetween the ages of 25 and 65 in South Dakota have a bachelor’s degree or higher, an increase from 20 percent a decade ago, the report said. Nationally, however, 36 percent of people in that age bracket have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher.

No grade was given in the learning section because no comparable data is available to make comparison.

The section examines what is known about student learning as the result of education and training beyond high school.