Many of Connecticut’s four-year colleges have low graduation rates and some also charge low-income students considerably more than they would have to pay elsewhere, according to a report from the non-profit organization Education Reform Now Connecticut.
And some of the state’s 22 schools surveyed for this study have both issues at play.
“The takeaway from this study is that too many Connecticut students are simply not set up for success. Connecticut can and should do better by its students,” said Amy Dowell, state director for Education Reform Now Connecticut. “What’s concerning and what the report lays out is that if you are making that steep investment, and in Connecticut it’s very steep, and you’re not graduating, then the system is doubly stacked against you.”
The four schools that have both low rates of graduation for first-time, full-time students and charge an exceptionally high amount to low-income students compared to national peer schools are Southern Connecticut State University, University of Bridgeport, University of Hartford and Western Connecticut State University, according to the report.
Based largely on 2016 and 2017 federal data, the report found that three of Connecticut’s 22 four-year colleges consistently graduated fewer than half of their entire student bodies within six years of initial enrollment, and that seven schools consistently graduated fewer than half their minority populations in six years.
In addition, the report said that half of the colleges charge “an exceptionally high net price” to students from families with incomes of less than $30,000, with a dozen of those schools charging more than double what a national peer institution charged comparable low-income students. A net price is the out-of-pocket charge to students and families after all grant aid is conferred.
“This data shows that our institutions of higher education are sometimes leaving our most vulnerable students worse off than before they enrolled. When we ask young people to take on debt without even earning the credentials that will allow for paying it off—that also has a compounding effect on our state economy,” said Dowell.
“Almost certainly, our institutions of higher education could do more to counsel these students and support them throughout their academic careers,” Dowell added. “But we can’t lose track of the underlying problem: namely, that our public school system isn’t producing graduates who are ready to succeed in college. It’s time for change.”
The non-profit organization, which is based in Westport, says it is focused on improving public education and protecting civil rights. It is the non-profit arm of Change Course CT PAC, which advocates for charter schools and supports Democratic candidates, and has a board of directors that is composed of finance industry executives, according to a 2018 Common Cause report.
Dowell said the group is also the local chapter of the national organization Education Reform Now and is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform in CT.
The report found that the six year graduation rates in 2017 for first-time, full-time students were 44.3% at Western; 41.6% at the University of Bridgeport; and 57.5% at the University of Hartford. At Southern Connecticut State University, the rate was 51.4% in 2016.
The net price in 2016, including tuition room and board, for students with family incomes of less than $30,000 was as follows:
- $13,571 at Southern;
- $15,556 at Western;
- $22,361 at the University of Bridgeport;
- and $26,271 at the University of Hartford.
In each case, the net price was well above that for peer schools, according to the report.
WCSU spokesman Paul Steinmetz said the higher price at Western is related to the university’s estimates of the higher cost for room and board and living expenses in Fairfield County.
He said that six-year graduation rates have been steadily climbing, hitting 49.6% in 2018 and 51.8% in 2019. He also noted that the school has initiated several programs to help boost retention and graduation rates, including academic help centers to assist in math and English.
Patrick Dilger, spokesman for SCSU, said that Southern has introduced a number of retention efforts to help students stay in college and graduate, including increasing the number of advisors, establishing new academic advising centers, and launching a program to provide additional supports for students of color who have been placed on academic probation. He noted that as a result of that program, 64% of participating students were removed from academic probation.
University of Hartford spokeswoman Meagan Fazio said the school has been investing heavily in programs that help all students succeed, such as adding a program that is specifically geared toward students who are the first in their families to attend college. She said more than 90% of students at the university receive some form of financial aid.
Fazio said the university found “some of the comparisons and conclusions in the report to be misleading.”
“The report’s authors compare our institution to institutions in other states where the state funding, demographics, institutional resources, etc. all vary dramatically,” she said in an email.
Dowell said the peer groups are drawn from data submitted by colleges to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and College Results Online (CRO).
The three colleges that consistently graduated fewer than half their students overall during the past three years were Mitchell College, the University of Bridgeport and Western Connecticut State University, which all had graduation rates between 40% and 45% in 2017.
The Connecticut four-year colleges that have for several years graduated fewer than half of their first-time, full-time minority students within six years of initial enrollment included Central Connecticut State University (40.9 % in 2017), Eastern Connecticut State University (42.2% in 2017), Mitchell College (24.5% in 2017), Southern Connecticut State University (43.5% in 2017), University of Bridgeport (34.5% in 2017), University of Hartford (43.9 % in 2017) and Western Connecticut State University (37.1% in 2017).
By comparison, these institutions all graduate more than 60% of their minority populations within six years of initial enrollment: Connecticut College, Fairfield University, Trinity College, Wesleyan University, Sacred Heart University, Quinnipiac University, UConn, Yale, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
The Connecticut four-year colleges that had average net prices in 2016 for low-income students that are significantly higher than most of their peer institutions include: Albertus Magnus College ($24,902), CCSU ($13,002), Connecticut College ($15,498 in 2016); Quinnipiac University ($30,412); Sacred Heart University ($32,703); SCSU ($13,571); Trinity College ($14,221), University of Bridgeport ($22,361); University of Hartford ($26,271) and WCSU ($15,556.)