Old Main at Penn State

Old Main at Penn State

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College in Pennsylvania goes ‘from expensive to unaffordable,’ study says

Feeling the crunch of your high tuition or the sad reality of crippling student loans? You’re not alone. Especially not in Pennsylvania.

Our state came in 49th out of 50 in a College Affordability Diagnosis by The Institute for Research on Higher Education at Penn, and that’s mostly because the state’s public research universities are among the most unaffordable in the nation. The study found that higher education in Pennsylvania “has gone from expensive to unaffordable for most low-and middle-income families.”

The rankings were based on college costs in relation to family income level, and Pennsylvania came in second-worst to only New Hampshire. And though Pennsylvania provides more financial aid to students than many other states, the most expensive public research institutions in the country — Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Indiana University of Pennsylvania — are here.

The researchers found that 17 percent of students in Pennsylvania attend public research institutions, and the average family would have to spend 47 percent of their income to pay for tuition at one of these schools (that’s last in the nation).

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College Affordability Diagnosis

The picture becomes more grim for low-income families. About 20 percent of families in Pennsylvania make less than $30,000 a year, and those families would need to spend 105 percent of their income to pay for college tuition, and that’s adjusted based on likely financial aid. In fact, the researchers say a student would have to work 59 hours a week on average at minimum wage to attend a public research institution full time.

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College Affordability Diagnosis

Though Pennsylvania’s college affordability level is bolstered by its pricey public research institutions, the state does provide more financial aid on average. In 2013, students at public institutions received an average of $713 in need-based aid, much higher than the $474 national average. At private institutions, Pennsylvania students received $970, while the national average was $644.

But educational attainment is becoming accessible more and more just for higher-income families. The researchers at Penn estimated that by 2020, some 63 percent of Pennsylvania jobs will require at least an associate’s degree, but in 2014, just 40 percent of working age Pennsylvanians had at least that level of education.

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College Affordability Rankings

Philadelphia colleges have doubled down on educating low-income students, and they’ve outperformed the nation in that regard. But statewide, legislators in Harrisburg are still attempting to figure out the best policy for funding higher education.

Four public institutions among the nation’s most expensive — Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln — make that difficult as they have a “state-related” designation and don’t receive the entirety of their funding from the state, yet still have a “public” designation. Pitt and Penn State are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the country on Cappex’s list of most expensive public universities.

Here are some other findings about Pennsylvania from Penn’s College Affordability Diagnosis:

  • Students enrolled at public research institutions borrow, on average, $4,052 a year.
  • Those attending private schools borrow, on average, $3,145 a year.
  • Meanwhile, those going to public four-year non-doctoral institutions borrow $5,106 annually.
  • 46 percent of young adults in Pennsylvania (ages 25-34) had an associate’s degree or higher in 2014.
  • While 40 percent of all working age Pennsylvanians have an associates degree or higher, educational attainment varied by race: According to the study, “43 percent of Whites have an associate’s degree or higher but the other three most populous racial groups (Blacks, Hispanics and Asians) have attainment of 26 percent, 20 percent and 61 percent respectively.”

To compare Pennsylvania to other states, check out the study’s interactive map. Here’s the full Pennsylvania study:

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