Colleges: be fiscally responsible

A great deal of money and effort is spent to make sure America’s schools prepare children for college. Most states are making good progress.

Rising costs, however, have made it more difficult for students to enroll in colleges, or to complete their studies there. That’s like preparing students to run a great race and then moving the finish line as they approach it.

“Ironic and discouraging,” is the apt description from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

The nonprofit group documented how well states are getting people into college and making sure they succeed. It found that more students are taking upper-level math courses and college entrance exams. But it gave failing grades to 36 states, including Missouri and Kansas, for affordability.

The costs of attending college have outpaced the growth in family income, the report states. Attendance at one of Missouri’s public four-year colleges takes about 41 percent of the income of the poorest 40 percent of families.

A Kansas family in the same income bracket spends 34 percent of its money to send a student to college. And that is after a student obtains financial aid.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers and other officials refuse to pay attention to this problem.

Few legislatures have formed a consensus on a reasonable share of income that families should be required to pay for education. They have no benchmarks for subsidizing public colleges and universities, or for bankrolling student financial aid. That needs to change.

“Every state should re-examine college tuition and financial aid policies, and each should formally link future tuition increases to gains in family income,” says Patrick M. Callan, the center’s president.

That’s a good starting point. State legislators should also acknowledge the benefits of affordable higher education for students, families and a region’s economy.

Colleges and universities have a responsibility to draft reasonable budgets. Lavish facilities and lauded programs mean little if students can’t afford to use them.