College Affordability Makes Grade in California

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While the state's educational system ranks No. 1 for affordability, college preparation in high schools and college graduation rates remain low, according to a state-by-state report card released yesterday.

"Measuring Up 2002," a study released by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, rated California public and private colleges and universities in six categories using letter grades. California received an "A" for affordability and a "C+" in student graduation rates. The state ranks 35th in the nation for higher education graduation rates.

The report is released every two years.

Statistics also show large disparities in "persistence" rates between students at four-year institutions and community colleges. Eighty-four percent of freshmen at four-year colleges and universities in California returned their sophomore year, while 48 percent of first-year community college students returned their sophomore year, according to the report.

UC officials attributed the university's high grade in affordability to the number of federally funded Pell grants the university offers its students.

Pell grants, which provide between $400 and $4,000 per year to students from low-income families, are awarded to 30 percent of UC Berkeley undergraduates, said Cheryl Resh, Director of Financial Aid at UC Berkeley.

But UC Berkeley's "A" grade in affordability is deceiving because housing and living expenses raise the cost of attending the university, said critics of the state's high grade.

Between 1990 and 2000, in-state UC student fees rose 73 percent, according to a report by the UC Student Association. In addition, over half of UC campuses-including UC Berkeley-saw a 10 percent increase in off-campus housing costs, according to the UCSA report.

Jessica Zacher, chair of the University Village Residents Association, said the high cost of housing remains a major concern for many students.

"I think they're losing out on graduate and undergraduate students," she said. "They aren't making any structural changes even though the university has the power to speak to the state Assembly on housing and dining services."

Zacher added that UC Berkeley does not provide sufficient support for students who struggle to afford high costs of living.

"The university hasn't adequately faced the needs for affordable housing," she said.

Officials of the center said despite the high affordability ranking, there is still the problem of students coming out of high school ill-prepared to complete a bachelor's degree.

The report gave the state a "C-" in college preparation because "fewer high school students in California are taking upper division math and science courses compared to two years ago," according to the center's findings.

"It's a low-cost option, but people are not as prepared as before," said Mikyung Ryu, policy analyst for the center. "So, the whole point of affordable education is lost. And when students enroll in college, they drop out. That's the problem."

But UC spokesperson Hanan Eisenman said UC's strict eligibility requirements limit acceptance to well-prepared students.

Ann Bancroft, spokesperson for the Secretary of Education, said the center's findings do not reflect changes implemented in other areas of California education.

"We are in a multi-year process with concentrated efforts to raise K-12 education," she said.


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