I have been blogging over the past few months on the generally worrisome state of US colleges and on policy remedies that might address the sector’s runaway costs, sagging student outcomes, and insularity.
College remains a topic of enormous daily importance to us here at Match Education since we send graduates from our high school to college every spring. Our students and families continue to do the hard work to get ready for college and to get in to college. But, college options that are affordable, full of quality learning, and likely to lead to a job are disappearing at a frightening pace.
In order to be helpful, we recently started Match Beyond, our own college and jobs program for young adults from greater Boston, including some of our own high school graduates.
Sticking to the college theme, I will take a close look in this blog at the college scene here in the Commonwealth.
The body of this blog consists of 25 data tables. Each table makes a few empirical points, and the tables in their entirety tell a startling story.
To motivate you for what is admittedly a long read below, some introductory points:
- 2-year Public Colleges in MA. Of our state’s roughly 500,000 current college students, 20% attend one of 16 2-year public colleges. Alarmingly, only 16% of entrants to these 2-year public colleges earn a degree within three years. Among Hispanic and African-American entrants to 2-year public colleges in MA, merely 10% earn a degree in three years. Graduation rates in our state’s 2-year public college system lag the also disappointing graduation rate of 2-year public colleges nationally, in which 19% of entrants earn a degree.
- 4-year Public Colleges in MA. In MA, roughly 25% of college students attend one of 14 public 4-year colleges. In these colleges, 58% of entrants earn a degree in 6 years, a clip almost identical to the national average (59%) among public 4-year colleges. To attend a 4-year public college in MA, a student now faces an ominous average net price of $15,900 per year, a payment that requires borrowing for a large majority of college-goers. Not surprisingly, 75% of graduates from 4-year public colleges in MA finish their degree with student loans averaging $29,000. Debt is obviously even more threatening to the many students who borrow to attend college but never finish.
- Elite 4-year Private Colleges in MA. Our state is home to a small number of world-class colleges that serve our country well but are of little relevance to in-state high school graduates. Specifically, 28% of college students in our state attend on of 16 private 4-year colleges that appear in U.S. News & World Report’s list of top 100 colleges in the US. Picture institutions like MIT, Boston College, and Williams College. In these colleges, 88% of entrants earn a degree in six years, a result far above the average graduation rate nationally in private 4-year colleges (65%). Unfortunately, if you care mostly about the Commonwealth, these colleges are little consolation. Only 18% of their students hail from MA high schools. By contrast, MA high school graduates account for 92% of students in our state’s public colleges.
- Typical 4-year Private Colleges in MA. Finally, 28% of our state’s college students attend one of 72 private 4-year colleges ranked outside U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 colleges in the US. In these colleges, only 65% of entrants earn a degree in six years, a result identical to the national average. The average net price to attend one of these 72 colleges is $29,800 per year (a price point, incidentally, that is about $2,000 above the net price at one of top tier colleges that I described above), and 66% of graduates from these 4-year private colleges are saddled with student loan debt of $32,600 on average.
- Public Funding and Price Inflation. Encouraged by massive federal loan and grant programs to students, colleges of all types in MA (and nationally) have been driving up their prices and collections relentlessly for decades. For example, over just the last 10 years in MA, college revenues have grown 5% per year and college revenues from Pell Grants have grown 9% per year, even as enrollment has grown at only 1.6%. In our state’s public colleges, student-paid tuition and fees (sourced extensively from federal loans and grants) now account for 55% of college revenues, up from 33% 15 years ago.
The alarming price inflation, low graduation rates, and heavy student debt burdens that now characterize colleges of all types in MA are the predictable result, in my opinion, of misguided and long-standing public policy on college aid, college accountability, and college accreditation.
For decades, public policy has enabled an entrenched college establishment to raise prices relentlessly on the back of large public subsidies, protected it almost completely via accreditation from competition, and permitted it to carry on with too little attention to quality or cost control.
I have written elsewhere about the need for new public policy in higher education that invites startups into the college sector in pursuit of innovation, quality, and cost containment. I won’t repeat that policy plea here, but it applies in our Commonwealth as well as anywhere.
- Section 1: Basic Enrollment Trends (Tables 1-4)
- Section 2: Enrollment Demographics (Tables 5-10)
- Section 3: College Finances (Tables 11-19)
- Section 4: Student Outcomes (Tables 20-25)
SECTION 1: BASIC ENROLLMENT TRENDS (TABLES 1-4)
*In this blog, unless otherwise stated, the term “private colleges” includes a small number of for-profit colleges. Less than 1% of MA college students attend for-profit private 2-year or 4-year colleges.
- MA has 124 colleges. They include 16 public 2-year colleges, 14 public 4-year colleges, 6 private 2-year colleges, and 88 private 4-year colleges.
- The total number of colleges in MA has remained largely unchanged for the last two decades.
- Over the last 40 years, college enrollment has grown slightly less quickly in MA than it has nationally. This variance is explained mainly by the fact the K-12 population in MA has grown more slowly than in the country as a whole.
- For more detail on national trends in college enrollment, see my earlier blog.
- College enrollment in MA totals about 510,000 students, and it splits about evenly between public and private colleges.
- Compared to college enrollment nationwide, college enrollment in MA skews towards 4-year private colleges. Nationally, only a quarter of college students attend 4-year private colleges. In MA, the analogous statistic is 55%.
- Our state’s approximately 280,000 students who attend 4-year private colleges can be split into two even enrollment halves.
- One enrollment half attends 16 private 4-year colleges in MA, each of which is ranked in the top 100 US colleges by US News & World Report.
- These 16 colleges are: Amherst College, Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Clark University, College of Holy Cross, Harvard University, MIT, Mount Holyoke College, Northeastern University, Smith College, Tufts University, Wellesley College, Wheaton College, Williams College, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
- The other enrollment half attends one of 72 private 4-year colleges in MA, each of which is ranked outside the top 100 US colleges by US News & World Report.
- Examples of these colleges are: Curry College, Emmanuel College, Lasell College, Mount Ida College, Newbury College, Pine Manor College, and Stonehill College.
- This d istinction will be useful at various points in this blog since student demographics, graduation rates, price inflation, debt frequency, and debt loads vary significantly between these two halves of enrollment in our state’s 4-year private colleges.
SECTION 2: ENROLLMENT DEMOGRAPHICS (TABLES 5-10)
- 72% of college-goers from MA high schools attend college in MA.
- Of the 72% of college-goers from MA high schools who attend college in-state, 75% of them go to a public university in MA.
- 92% of students in public colleges in MA come from MA high schools.
- By contrast, graduates of MA high schools account for only 32% of enrollment in private colleges in MA and just 18% of students in the 16 MA private colleges that rank among the top 100 US colleges according to US News & World Report.
- By race, the student body of MA colleges is slightly less diverse than the student body in MA K-12 schools.
- MA colleges have become more diverse over the last two decades. In 1993, 80% of students in MA colleges were white. The same statistic was 67% in 2014.
*In this table and at various other places in this blog, data is omitted for private 2-year colleges, either because it is not publicly available or because it is immaterial (private 2-year colleges account for less than 1% of college students in MA).
- 2-year public colleges in MA enroll higher shares of Hispanic and African-American students than do 4-year private or public colleges in MA.
- “Other” includes most significantly international students. It also includes multi-racial students and students whose race is unknown.
- 39% of students in 2-year public colleges in MA qualify for Pell grants.
- By contrast, only 21% of students in private 4-year colleges – and just 14% of students in private 4-year colleges ranked in the top 100 US colleges by US News & World Report – qualify for Pell grants.
- 47% of low income graduates from MA high schools attend in-state, 2-year public colleges, a rate far higher than their middle class peers.
SECTION 3: COLLEGE FINANCES (TABLES 11-19)
- College revenues in MA have grown 5% per year over the last decade.
- During the same period, enrollment grew 1.6% per year.
- The state of MA currently spends $1.2 billion dollars on higher education annually.
- 87% of state spending on higher education is aid to public 2-year and 4-year colleges.
- State spending on higher education in MA has grown at mere 0.9% per year for the last decade. On a per public college student basis, it has shrunk by 0.9% per year.
- Revenue from student-paid tuition and fees in MA public colleges has grown 6.3% per year for the last 15 years, a rate that is far ahead of enrollment growth in the same colleges.
- Revenue from student-paid tuition and fees currently comprises 55% of revenue for public colleges in MA. That statistic was 33% in 2000.
*College sticker price is the published cost to a student of attending college for one year, before college-issued discounts and generally includes tuition, fees, room, and board. As used in later tables, college net price is the cost to a student of attending college for one year, after college-issued discounts.
- The sticker prices of 4-year public and private colleges – both nationwide and in MA – have increased rapidly over the last fifteen years. The sticker prices of MA 4-year colleges are significantly above the national average.
- Growth in college revenues from Pell Grants (9.1% annually for the last decade) has far outpaced growth in overall college revenues (5.0% annually for the last decade).
- Generally, MA college revenue growth and price increases over the last several decades have been enabled by federal financial aid. Federal spending on higher education comes in several forms, notably grants to students (such as Pell grants, which provide low income students with aid grants of up to $6,000 per year) and large public loan programs. Between 2000 and 2012, as state-level spending on higher education fell by 9% nationwide, federal spending on higher education grew by 92%. For more on federal higher education spending, see my earlier blog on the topic.
- Annual net price – the crucial measure of college cost for families – now averages $7,300 for 2-year public colleges, $15,900 for 4-year public colleges, and $28,800 for private 4-year colleges.
- Note that while the average sticker price of a private 4-year college in MA is over $53,200, the average net price in these colleges is $28,800. Private 4-year colleges market high sticker prices from which to discount.
- Escalation in net prices for college is an issue nationally as much as it is in MA. Since 1990, the national average net price of attending college has grown 3% per year at 2-year public colleges, 4% per year at 4-year public colleges, and 5% per year at 4-year private colleges. For more on the increasing net price of college across the US, see my earlier blog on the matter.
- 75% of graduates from MA public 4-year colleges enter the job market with student loans averaging $29,000.
- 59% of graduates from MA private 4-year colleges leave college with an average of $29,700 in debt.
- Obviously, the consequences of student loan debt are most severe for students who dropout. I have not found data on the debt frequency and debt size among college non-completers in MA. That data set is, however, available nationally, and I have written about it here.
- In MA, 13% of students in 2-year public colleges default on their college loans. The equivalent statistic nationally is 19%.
- As student loan debt has grown nationally – 40 million Americans now have student loan debt totaling $1.2 trillion dollars – an increasing number of Americans are defaulting on their college loans. I have written about this alarming national trend in a prior blog.
SECTION 4: COLLEGE OUTCOMES (TABLES 20-25)
*Here and elsewhere in this blog, graduation rate is defined as the percent of an entering cohort that earns a degree within 6 years in a 4-year college and within 3 years in a 2-year college.
- The graduation rate among the half of MA private 4-year college students who attend colleges ranked in the US News and World Top 100 is 88%.
- By contrast, the graduation rate among the other half of MA private 4-year college students who attend colleges ranked outside the US News & World Report Top 100 is 65%.
- Recall from Table 6 that MA high school graduates comprise only 18% of students enrolled in MA private 4-year colleges ranked inside the US News and World Report Top 100.
- 81% of African-American students who enroll in MA private 4-year colleges listed by US News & World Report as a top 100 college earn a degree in 6 years.
- By contrast, only 43% of African-American students who enroll in MA private 4-year colleges not listed by US News & World Report as a top 100 college earn a degree in 6 years.
*The five 4-year public colleges listed above account for 80% of students enrolled in 4-year public colleges in MA.
- The graduation rate at 4-year public colleges in MA is 58% – similar to the national average graduation rate in 4-year public colleges of 59%.
- Among 4-year public colleges in MA, only UMass-Amherst performs above the national average graduation rate of 4-year public colleges.
- The graduation rates for African-American students and Hispanic students at 4-year public colleges in MA 4-year public colleges are 47% and 48%, respectively. These results are far below the results of their white and Asian peers at 4-year public colleges in MA.
*The five 2-year public colleges listed above account for 70% of students enrolled in 2-year public colleges in MA.
- In 2-year public colleges in MA, the graduation rate is 16%.
- Recall, per tables earlier in this blog, 27% of college-goers from MA high schools attend 2-year public colleges in MA and that 92% of students in MA public colleges are from in-state high schools.
- Only 10% of African-American students and Hispanic students at 2-year public colleges in MA earn a degree. This graduation rate is far below the 19% graduation rate among white students in public 2-year colleges in MA.
Encouraged by enormous support for financial aid programs in DC, MA colleges have been raising prices continuously. To meet the cost of college, students take out ever-larger loans, maximize what grants they can find, and sap household income. And once in college, students face alarmingly low graduate rates and high debt burdens.
Even our state’s often-praised private 4-year college sector is, on close inspection, little consolation. Generally speaking, it offers good outcomes for out-of-state students who enter a small number of elite private colleges in MA and unappealing outcomes for in-state students who typically attend lower tier private 4-year colleges.
I have written here about the higher education policy missteps over the last 50 years that drove our college sector to the brink in the first place – nationally and in our Commonwealth – and about the policy reforms that, in my view, can walk it back from the edge and get it moving over the next decade towards meaningful quality improvement, cost reduction, and design innovation.
Table 1: Number and Type of MA Colleges
Table 2: College Students, 1970-2014
Table 3: MA & US Enrollment by College Type
Table 4: MA Enrollment in Top 100 Private 4-Year Colleges, 2017
Table 5: College Destinations of MA High School Graduates, 2014
Table 6: In-State v Out-of-State Enrollment in MA Colleges, 2011
Table 7: Enrollment by Race
Table 8: Enrollment by Race in MA Colleges, 2014
Table 9: Enrollment by Income in MA Colleges, 2013-2014
Table 10: College Destinations of MA High School Graduates, By Income, 2013-2014
Table 11: Revenues and Enrollment of MA Colleges
Table 12: MA State Budget For Higher Education, 2016
Table 13: MA State Spending on Higher Education
Table 14: Total Revenues from Tuition & Fees at MA Public Colleges
Table 15: Sticker Price at 4-Year MA Colleges
Table 16: College Revenues from Federal Pell Grants
Table 17: Net Price of College, 2015
Table 18: Student Debt of Graduates from 4-Year Colleges, 2013-2014
Table 19: Student Loan Default Rates, 2013 Cohort
Table 20: Graduation Rates at 4-Year Private Colleges
Table 21: Graduation Rates at 4-Year Private Colleges in MA, By Race
Table 22: Graduation Rates at 4-Year Public Colleges
Table 23: Graduation Rates at 4-Year Public Colleges in MA, By Race
Table 24: Graduation Rates at 2-Year Public Colleges
Table 25: Graduation Rates at 2-Year Public Colleges in MA, By Race