Cost of Attendance Report for 1997
Can Connecticut Students Afford to Pay?
At the very time when economists are telling us that the best jobs in the future will belong to those who are highly skilled and who have the most education and training, more and more Connecticut students are asking: "Can I afford college?" The simple answer for a significant number of Connecticut residents is "no."
One might that think that because Connecticut has the highest per capita income of any state in the nation that, surely, Connecticut families can pay for their children’s education. Unfortunately, per capita income figures mask the reality that the majority of Connecticut families have well below average income levels. In 1995, it is estimated that Connecticut’s median household income was $40,243; half of Connecticut’s families earned less than that. While this figure is $6,000 more than the national average, it is below that of states like Maryland, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Colorado, Hawaii and Alaska. The median for all states including the District of Columbia ranged from a low of $25,814 in Arkansas to $47,954 in Alaska. The average deviation from the mean was about $4,000.6
In addition, Connecticut’s income levels vary greatly by region. According to a 1995 report by the former Connecticut Department of Economic Development, median
household effective buying income (EBI) in 1994 ranged from a low of $38,571 in Windham County to a high of $55,536 in Fairfield County.7
The Demand for Student Financial Aid
To attempt to assess the demand for student financial aid among Connecticut’s college-bound students, the Department of Higher Education analyzed data of state residents who for the 1995-96 school year completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is required of all students applying for federal financial aid and is used by virtually all colleges and universities to assess financial need. Based on information contained in the FAFSA, the federal government determines what the student and/or his parents are expected to contribute towards college costs in any given year, or the "Expected Family Contribution" (EFC). The EFC generally increases as income increases. Thus, families with lower incomes are expected to contribute less towards the cost of attendance.
For 1995-96, 90,294 Connecticut residents sought financial assistance to attend college or a postsecondary institution somewhere in the United States. Most aid applicants (56.3 percent) identified themselves as dependent students, reliant on parental income. Most were less than 25 years of age (68.7%) and most were students already enrolled in college (66.3 percent). About 25 percent had other family members enrolled in college at the same time.
More than one-fifth of the students who completed FAFSA forms (21.1%) were unable to make any contribution to their college costs. In other words, they had an EFC of ZERO. Another 9.3 percent could contribute only up to $1,000. Thus, more than 30 percent of state residents seeking financial aid last year could not even cover the basic full-time tuition and fee costs at a Connecticut community-technical college.
Almost 78 percent (69,003) of the students had an EFC of $10,000 or less and, therefore, would need outside financial support to attend any of the four Connecticut State Universities as full-time resident students. Only 15 percent of the pool, or 13,424 students, had a EFC of more than $13,000 and, thus, could be expected to cover the cost of attendance (tuition, fees, books, room and board, etc.) at the University of Connecticut. Almost 85 percent would have needed some financial assistance to attend UConn in the fall of 1995. Chart 6 on the following page shows the number of students who fell below each EFC level.
Chart 6: Number of Students Above Each EFC Level
Many of the state’s students who apply for financial aid are already enrolled in Connecticut’s public colleges. When the Department matched these students with its fall 1995 Student File, some interesting findings emerged. In the fall of 1995, the University of Connecticut enrolled 12,826 undergraduate students who were Connecticut residents. About 52 percent (6,687) of these students filed a FAFSA. Of these, 16.6 percent had an EFC of more than $13,000 and, thus, would not have qualified for need-based aid for the 1995-96 academic year. That means that some 5,574 (83.4 percent) students needed some assistance to attend UConn last year.8
The situation at the Connecticut State University was a little different with 41 percent of Connecticut residents filing a FAFSA (9,804). Only 1,700, or 17 percent, of these students had an EFC of more than $10,000 and could have attended CSU without financial aid. The remaining 8,104 (83 percent) required some kind of financial aid to attend as full-time undergraduates.
At the Community-Technical Colleges, the picture changed dramatically. This system had the greatest number of FAFSA filers (11,691), but they represented the smallest proportion of headcount enrollment (only 27.9 percent of Connecticut residents attending the CTCs filed a FAFSA). Of these, 7,370, or 63 percent, had an EFC of $2,000 or less and would have required some financial aid to attend full-time. The low FAFSA application rate could be an indicator of several things which may be worth exploring further. First, students attending part-time may not have sought financial aid or may have assumed they were not eligible for aid and, therefore, did not apply. This also could be further evidence that students select institutions based on their perceived ability to pay.
On the whole, the most obvious observation from this analysis is that the more expensive the institution, the greater the proportion of students who seek financial aid. As illustrated in Table 3 below, Connecticut’s public institutions enroll a larger share of those Connecticut residents with lower incomes (residents with an EFC of $5,000 or less) and a much smaller share of the those with greater ability to pay (residents with an EFC of more than $13,000).
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