Making college affordable: five ways that states, schools are trying to help

Student debt and skyrocketing tuition make headlines. But this week, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have sought to highlight the silver lining – examples of how states and institutions have been trying to reduce the cost of higher education.

“Now more than ever, public higher-education institutions and state officials will need to work together to improve access and performance while spending resources wisely and cutting costs,” said Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, in a hearing Wednesday held by the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.

Here are some ideas presented in that hearing, and another Thursday morning before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

1. Streamline transfers from community colleges

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Students from the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering at the University of Rochester graduate at the Eastman Quadrangle in the rain in Rochester, N.Y., on May 15, 2011.

Students who want to move on to a four-year institution after a community-college experience often lose credits, which equate to time and money. But some states, such as Louisiana and Florida, have created comprehensive “articulation agreements” to make the transition more efficient. 

Students who earn the Louisiana Transfer Degree can now move on to any of the state’s 14 universities. “As a result ... the average student saves $2,117, while the state of Louisiana saves $1,930 per transfer student,” said Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, on Wednesday.

House Democrats introduced the Transferring Credits for College Completion Act of 2012 this week to try to broaden that approach. The bill would make transfer information more transparent and require that all public institutions that receive federal aid allow students to count an associate’s degree as the first two years of a related four-year degree in the same state.

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