Community and technical college students have higher levels of unmet financial need, study finds, because they are more likely to be low-income and have smaller financial aid packages to draw from.  

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Students who need money to go to college and don’t get it are less likely to finish a college degree, a new state study finds.

No surprise there. But the unexpected finding: More of those students are in community or technical colleges than at four-year colleges and universities – even though the four-year schools charge double the price, and often more, for tuition.

The report comes from the Educational Research and Data Center, an arm of the state’s Office of Financial Management, which did the research as part of a larger series of studies on how aid based on financial need affects a student’s likelihood of completing a degree or certificate.

Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and City U.

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Why do community and technical college students have higher levels of unmet financial need? The study found two reasons for this: First, they were more likely to be low-income, so their families could contribute less to their educations; and second, the financial aid packages at community colleges are smaller than at four-year institutions.

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The financial-aid snapshot also found that students differed in the way they paid for college, depending on where they went.

Students attending a four-year school were more likely to borrow money – an average of $6,000 in their first year – to pay tuition, although about half also took part-time jobs to help pay for college. Community college students were more likely to work, and work longer hours, to earn money for college. About two-thirds of the community college students had a job, and worked about 15 hours a week; the four-year college students worked an average of six hours a week.

“Simply stated, financial aid makes postsecondary education cheaper,” the report concludes. “By being cheaper, more is consumed.”

The report comes as Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is proposing to make community college free and easy to access for all students graduating from Seattle’s public high schools. Durkan’s sweeping, $636 million city-education levy, targeted for the November ballot, would spend $43.8 million over seven years to give students the opportunity to go to community college for two years for free. It would expand a privately funded program already in place, the 13th Year Promise Scholarship, that pays tuition for the first year of community college for students who graduate from Seattle high schools where incomes are the lowest.

The study also found that students with higher high school GPAs typically had lower amounts of unmet need. With the exception of men who started at a four-year institution, students who met the high school math assessment standard had lower amounts of unmet need.