College in Washington is more affordable than it is in Massachusetts because most of our students go to two-year colleges and because the state offers generous financial aid packages, a new report says.
Last month, Education Lab took a look at why Massachusetts’ K-12 education system leads the nation in performance, and why a state that seems so similar to Washington seems to be achieving so much more.
How does college in the two states compare? A recent report that offers state-by-state comparisons provides some answers — at least in terms of affordability.
The report, College Affordability Diagnosis, concludes that college nationwide is less affordable today than it was in 2008, although some states do better than others. (Alaska, Wyoming and Hawaii are the most-affordable states.) The report, by the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania, found that economic barriers are a reason why the attainment gap between white and minority students is persisting, or even growing, even as the population becomes more diverse. Every state is projected to fall short of the number of college-educated graduates that each will need by 2020 to sustain its economy.
In some ways, Washington does significantly better than Massachusetts overall; its college affordability ranking is 12th in the nation, compared with Massachusetts’ rank of 43rd. That’s because many Washington students attend two-year colleges, where tuition is low. In Massachusetts, more college students go to private four-year schools, where tuition is very high. And Washington’s financial aid program is one of the most generous in the nation.
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Still, only about 44 percent of working-age Washington residents have an associate’s degree or higher, and by 2020 about 70 percent of jobs will require that level of education. In Massachusetts today, 51 percent of residents have an associate’s degree or higher, and in four years 72 percent of jobs will require one.
The report doesn’t measure bachelor’s degree attainment, but for comparison purposes, 34 percent of Washington adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The number in Massachusetts is 44 percent.
In Washington, 40 percent of college students are enrolled in community college; the rest go to four-year colleges. In Massachusetts, two-year schools account for only 27 percent of enrollment. In the state that’s home to Harvard and MIT, 32 percent of college students are enrolled in either a public or private research university; in Washington, only 22 percent are enrolled in the state’s two public research universities, University of Washington and Washington State University. (There are no private research universities in this state.)
Washington really shines in the generosity of its financial aid. Here, there is $1,133 available in need-based aid per student at public colleges, well above the national average of $474. Massachusetts only offers $301 per public college student, below the national average.
Dramatic change is coming to both states — indeed, to the nation overall — between 2020 and 2028. We’re growing, and they’re shrinking, but both states will become more diverse.
In Washington, the number of high-school graduates is projected to increase by 10 percent. As a percentage of the graduating class, Hispanic students are expected to grow by 1 percent and Asian students by 2 percent. White students are expected to decline, by 8 percent.
In Massachusetts, in contrast, the number of graduates are expected to decrease by 8 percent. As a percentage of the graduating class, Hispanic students are projected to grow by 3 percent, and white students are expected to decline by 6 percent.