Rising tuition putting college out of reach for low-income, minority students

Rising tuition and reduced state funding have put college out of reach for low-income students, experts say.

The impact is being felt most acutely by black students, whose enrollment in four-year colleges has steadily declined, according to a report by the nonprofit Partnership for College Completion.

The group works with colleges and universities to improve completion rates for low-income, minority and first-generation students. It found 11,100 fewer black students attended Illinois' public and private, nonprofit institutions in 2017 compared to 2007.

"We have seen a mass exodus of black students from higher education in Illinois over the last several years," said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion.

Latino students disproportionately are enrolling in community colleges and are about 30% less likely to transfer to four-year institutions than white students, another Partnership report shows.

Declining funding of public universities has led to students leaving Illinois for nearby states, Westbrook said.

For a student whose family makes less than $30,000 a year, the cost of attending a public four-year university is about $12,800 per year - 50% more than the Midwestern average. That same student would pay about $17,500 a year to attend a private four-year college; about $22,000 at a for-profit institution; and about $6,200 to attend a community college in Illinois, the report shows.

Illinois' appropriation for public universities declined by more than 50% from 2002 to 2018, the report states. State funding of the Monetary Award Program grant for low-income students remained static during that period,

"Universities have passed those costs onto students," Westbrook said. "Students who can least afford it are the (ones) being priced out."

About 46% of eligible students receive MAP grants, with students awarded a maximum of $4,900.

"The award covers only about 34% of tuition and fees at our public universities. And not every student who is eligible actually receives one," Westbrook said.

The group recommends increasing state funding for public institutions serving many low-income students and for MAP grants, as well as a task force to study higher education funding.

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