Racial Gaps, High Costs Plague Md. Higher Education


WASHINGTON (Dec. 4, 2008)—Maryland higher education is too costly and continues to have large racial disparities in success and completion rates, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

"Measuring Up 2008: The State Report Card on Higher Education," failed Maryland for higher education affordability. On average, poor and working-class families spend 33 percent of their income, even with aid, to attend a two-year college, said the report.

Since the center's 2006 report card, financial aid for Maryland students has declined, the report said.

The state spends 59 cents for every Pell Grant federal aid dollar. The national average is 46 state cents per Pell Grant dollar, according to the center.

Nationwide, college tuition and fees have increased 439 percent in 25 years while median family income has increased 147 percent, said Patrick Callan, center president.

"It's no wonder we haven't been able to generate enough financial aid to keep up with that level of tuition increase," he said. "Most of our new investments in aid are to absorb increased costs rather than getting more access."

Since 2005, Maryland has had an in-state, undergraduate tuition freeze, which lowered the state from the sixth to 16th highest in-state tuition. The state also tripled need-based aid during the same period, from about $10 million to $28 million, said John Buettner, University System of Maryland spokesman.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has made no decision about keeping the tuition freeze for another year, said spokesman Shaun Adamec.

"It's something the governor would like to continue and we will work to continue, but it's too early to tell," Adamec said. "The governor has been clear that nothing can be off the table, there's no more fat to be trimmed ... and everything we're doing now is going to be painful."

The report also highlighted racial gaps in higher education. About 73 percent of whites graduate from higher institutions in six years while only 42 percent of blacks do, said the report.

"Maryland is becoming generally a majority-minority state," Buettner said. "One of the challenges will be to prepare those students for college educations and for jobs in the economy.

Last year, the University System of Maryland created the Closing the Achievement Gap Initiative. Each school is developing a plan to close gaps between races, genders, incomes and at-risk students. For example, some colleges are increasing or modifying developmental courses and outreach programs to help freshmen transition better into college, Buettner said.

There is also a gap in college enrollment and high school credentials. About 32 percent of blacks are enrolled in college and 89 percent have high school credentials. Meanwhile, 42 percent of whites are enrolled in college and 94 percent have high school credentials.

"The gap is not a new phenomenon," said Dr. Lezli Baskerville, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education president. "They are persistent, as are the disparities in funding for historically black colleges and historically white colleges."

The association recommends more funding for historically black institutions, enrolling more minority students at well-funded universities and increasing aid to institutions with more low-income students.

"At this time of new beginnings and transition, if we rethink the policies of the nation that have ill-served the country and kept the nation divided along economic and educational lines, this data can be instructive as to the type of policy changes that are needed," Baskerville said.

Maryland did earn an A- in preparing students for secondary education. The state also has a high number of residents with bachelor's degrees, but only 26 percent of blacks have a bachelor's degree, compared to 42 percent of whites.

"Our presidents are committed to making higher education greater because ultimately it benefits our state, it benefits our work force and it strengthens our economy," Buettner said. "The report is a good bellwether for higher education and its status in the U.S., but it does gloss over what's currently happening in ... Maryland."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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