What’s the real cost of college in California?

July 1, 2014 | Written by: Michele Siqueiros, Executive Director, Campaign for College Opportunity

You don’t need to read the newspaper every day to know that college costs are on the rise, student debt has reached $1.2 trillion dollars, and the opportunity for low- and middle-income students to attain a college degree is threatened.

Last week I attended a presentation by Sara Goldrick-Rab; she shared that college-going and college graduation rates are on the decline for Americans from all income brackets, except those in the top 25%. And then she said something that made me really uncomfortable, “Today, you don’t pay for college with your income, you pay for college with your wealth.” By that standard, I would have never been able to pay for college—I suspect many of you wouldn’t have either. Then I read the New York Times Magazine article on “Who Gets to Graduate” and the creativity and leadership at the University of Texas at Austin to use student data to target student support for low income students, was really inspiring. And proof that we can and should do more for our students, and we must be smart about it.

Almost always lost in the conversation about college affordability is the issue of time. The significant amount of extra time students spend in college translates into real costs. The longer students are enrolled, the more they pay in tuition, fees, books and living expenses. And they put off the higher earning potential that a college degree provides, often for several years.

There’s a real college affordability crisis facing students who aren’t able to earn their degree in a timely manner at our community colleges and California State University systems. This is why today we are releasing two new reports, The Real Cost of College: Time & Credits to Degree in California along with a series of web tools that illustrate the impact of different variables on time to degree and the potential benefits to students, colleges and universities, and the state of California of reducing both time and credits to degree.

The reports detail how delays in obtaining a college degree at California’s public colleges and universities are substantially increasing the costs of college for students and the state’s taxpayers.

The traditional two-year associate degree now routinely take four years, and half of all baccalaureate degree earners at the California State University take longer than 4.7 years to cross the graduation stage. Students are not only taking longer but they are accumulating more credits on their way to graduation. Associate degree earners graduate with a median of 78 credits, 18 credits more than are required for an associate degree. Bachelor’s degree earners graduate with a median of 135 credits, 15 credits more than are required for a bachelor degree.

These trends are leading to higher costs and fewer available seats at the state’s community colleges and CSU campuses, and it impacts the state economy at a time when more college graduates are needed to meet workforce demand.

We know budget reductions have led to big cuts in available classes, students may also be working more, and that leads to more part-time attendance, remedial classes extend time to degree, etc. Given these challenges, it is even more critical that we support our students so they can finish their degrees in a timely fashion to save costs and make space for more students to enroll and graduate.

What if we reduced the number of excess credits by just one at the community college system? That would result in $21 million in savings for the state and would create space for an additional 7,320 full-time students.

The impact of decreasing the excess time and credits it takes students to graduate is immense and critical. While the reports find that there are some current policies and programs in place that address this issue of excess time and credits to degree, it’s also clear that more must be done.

For the individual reports on The Real Cost of College: Time & Credits to Degree visit our publications page.

About the Author:

Michele Siqueiros is the Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

To read her complete bio, click here. Follow her on Twitter @MSCollegeOpp

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