The affordability of public colleges and universities, whose primary mission is to serve state residents, is top-of-mind for students and parents, institutional leaders and state policymakers. NEBHE’s 2016-17 tuition & fees report New England Fast Facts: The Price of Public Colleges in New England, 2016-17 shows that since fall 2011, tuition and required fees have risen 16% at community colleges and 18% at 4-year institutions. Over that same period, enrollment in the region’s public institutions has fallen by 3.5%—a trend that is expected to continue due to a projected 14% decline in the number of new high school graduates in New England by 2032.
State and institutional financial aid awards seek to lower the sticker price of college. While individual financial aid packages vary, at least one program is fairly easy to predict and summarize: the federal Pell Grant. On average, the Pell Grant continues to cover tuition and fees for students in the lowest income quintile in New England who are enrolled at community colleges. At the 4-year level, the Pell Grant covered 60% of tuition and fees for students in the lowest income quintile in 2007-08. Today, the maximum Pell Grant pays for about half of a year’s tuition and fees at 4-year institutions.
These trends are forcing institutions and systems to get creative to ensure affordability for students, maintain enrollment and meet the needs of regional employers, who increasingly demand workers with postsecondary credentials.
In New Hampshire, a state known for its high in-state tuition prices, tuition has been frozen at community colleges. Meanwhile, the University of New Hampshire introduced the Granite Guarantee, which will provide free tuition to any full-time freshmen who are eligible for Pell Grants.
Rhode Island, with the leadership of Gov. Gina Raimondo, successfully passed a free college proposal for students entering the Community College of Rhode Island, beginning in fall 2017.
Maine, which consistently has the lowest in-state tuition rates in New England, has launched an effort, known as the Flagship Match, to extend competitive out-of-state tuition rates to residents of the five other New England states, as well as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California.
Nevertheless, budget shortfalls continue to jeopardize state’s efforts to address college affordability. Maine’s public universities are expected to raise tuition in 2018 for the first time in over six years, while higher education leaders in Massachusetts and Connecticut wrestle with budget and tuition constraints.
Candace Williams is NEBHE’s associate director of policy & research.