The cheap and the not so cheap

The federal College Affordability and Transparency Center has updated its information on the most expensive and the most affordable college options.

The highest tuition college in the public, two-year sector is the University of Pittsburgh-Titusville, which charges $11,324 a year. New Hampshire community colleges dominate the high-tuition list.

California and New Mexico community colleges charge the least: College of the Siskiyous in California costs only $573 a year and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic in Albuquerque costs $675.

The tool also estimates “net price,” the cost of attendance minus likely grant and scholarship aid. This includes living costs, which is misleading for students at non-residential colleges. Most community college students live at home and don’t incur additional living costs by enrolling in college.

Debt fears boost transfers

Afraid of college debts, more New Hampshire students are starting the path to a bachelor’s degree at a community college, reports New Hampshire Public Radio. Community college transfers to state universities increased by 57 percent in the last six years.

Twenty-six thousand dollars. That’s about how much students can save by going to a community college for two years, then transferring to a four-year school. Not including financial aid or room and meals.

. . . Rebekah Lamirande has plans to get a Masters degree in nursing.  She says growing up, she was sure she’d go to a four year college.  Her father has a PhD, and her mother has two degrees, too.  Of course, then the recession happened. LaMirande was in High School.

“It just wasn’t in the cards, moneywise,” she says.  “I didn’t want to graduate with over $100,000 worth of student loans.”

Transfer was simplified in 2009: New Hampshire community college students know if they earn a certain grade point average they’re guaranteed admission to a state university.

Ashley Desrochers is a senior at UNH. She says the easy transfer process was important to her in choosing not to go to UNH for all four years, but to start at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord.

Desrochers says although her peers at NHTI were not as ambitious or driven as her classmates at UNH, the academics were just as good. In fact, class sizes were much smaller. “I would never think a community college education is less than a university education,” she says.

The number of 18-year-olds is on the decline in New England. “By aligning curricula, streamlining the application process, and recruiting on-site, New Hampshire is trying to keep community college transfer students not just in the state, but enrolled in New Hampshire’s university system,” reports NPR. However, a 2006 state survey showed that 72 percent of students who start at community college want to transfer to a four-year program but only 20 percent reach that goal.

NH colleges profit from online, hybrid classes

New Hampshire community colleges are adding online and hybrid classes to help working students — and boost college revenues, reports the Concord Monitor.

“A large majority of our students work full time,” said Ross Gittell, chancellor of the Community College System. “So the flexibility of being able to take an online course is very attractive to them.”

In the past four years, the number of online students has doubled throughout the seven-college system. The number of online classes has increased by 67 percent and continues to grow.

Students will be able to take online classes from any New Hampshire community college, not just the nearest one. That’s expected to help students in rural areas.

“We can deliver more courses in a more effective way,” Gittell said. “It also increases the average enrollment, which increases the class size per course, which increases the net revenue since of course we still only have the one faculty person that you pay.”

New Hampshire Technical Institute made  more than $2 million in revenue from online courses, reports the Monitor. By fall, NHTI will have five online degree programs available.

Most states will spend more on higher ed

Thirty states will spend more on high er education in the current fiscal year, but overall state spending is down 0.4 percent, according to an annual survey by Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers. Since fiscal 2008, state higher education spending has declined nearly 11 percent.

New Mexico will spend a measly 0.1 percent percent more: energy-rich Wyoming will boost spending by nearly 14 percent. But Florida will cut higher ed spending by 8 percent.

In California, where state money for colleges fell nearly 6 percent from the year before, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has proposed increasing state funds for the public-college systems by 4 percent to 6 percent in the coming fiscal year. As in many other states, that proposal came with the expectation that state colleges will keep tuition flat and increase their efficiency in producing graduates.

During the past five years, more than a dozen states have cut college funding by more than 20 percent. Arizona (37 percent) and New Hampshire (36 percent) have cut the most.

“Barring a further downturn in the economy, the relatively small overall change … suggests that higher education may be at the beginning stages of a climb out of the fiscal trough caused by the last recession,” says a news release accompanying the survey data.

However, a new report from Moody’s Investors Services predicts tough times for higher education with stagnant state funding, student resistance to tuition increases and a declining number of high school graduates.

Frugal students opt for 2-year colleges

In tough times, frugal students are starting at community colleges in Southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley, reports the Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, MA.

Kaila Nicholson of Kingston wants to join a SWAT team. Dayanna Martes of Lawrence is studying business. Aja Metcalf of Salem is majoring in exercise science.

The Northern Essex Community College students are looking forward to the day when they can start their new careers — without being burdened with thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

Students expect to save at least $20,000 in tuition, room and board by starting their path to a bachelor’s degree at a local community college.

Martes was offered an $18,000 scholarship to Newbury College, but calculated living at home and attending NECC was more affordable.

Nicholson, who is studying criminal justice, said she’s now paying $5,000 a year, compared to $30,000 a year at Southern New Hampshire University, where she attended for one semester.  NECC is smaller and provides more individual attention, she said. “I think it’s a good school and the teachers here are really good,” Nicholson said. “And it’s cheaper.”

Ever since the recession began several years ago, community college officials in New Hampshire and Massachusetts say they are seeing significant increases in enrollment as students and their families struggle to foot the rising costs of higher education.

News coverage of rising college costs has scared students and parents, said NECC spokesman Ernie Greenslade.

New Hampshire graduates owed an average of $32,450, the largest debt load in the nation, according to The Institute for College Access & Success. Massachusetts ranked 14th at $27,181.

CC was first step for 45% of 4-year grads

Forty-five percent of four-year graduates studied — at least for awhile — at a community college, reports a National Student Clearinghouse study.  Among students who reported taking community colleges classes, 24 percent were enrolled for one term, 16 percent for two and 19 percent for three or four terms. Twelve percent were enrolled for at least 10 terms.

A majority of transfers who earn a bachelor’s degrees finish within three years, notes Inside Higher Ed.

Of the 45 percent of four-year-degree completers in 2010-11 who had studied at a community college, 16 percent earned their bachelor’s degree within one year of enrolling at the four-year institution, and 36 percent had earned a degree within three years of enrolling. (Twenty-four percent earned degrees within 4 or 5 years, 11 percent within 6 or 7 years, and 7 percent in 10 or more years.)

In 13 states, a majority of four-year graduates reported taking community college classes. Texas, at 78 percent, led the pack with California, another state with many Hispanics, at 65 percent.

By contrast, starting at community college is uncommon in New England states: Only 22 percent of New Hampshire four-year graduates report taking community college classes and no New England state topped 30 percent.