Mixed Marks for Maryland Higher Ed
by Andrea Roethke
A report hot of the press from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gives the performance of Maryland colleges and universities a mixed review. In Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Public Postsecondary Education, the Chamber’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce examines performance, cost and outcomes at public institutions in all 50 states.
Maryland does well in a few areas – and students at four-year schools seem to be faring the best. In fact, Maryland four-years rank in the top 15 for retention, completion, and credentials produced. Moreover, the total cost per graduate is far lower than the national average – a figure which includes both public funds and tuition payments. This means students and taxpayers alike are getting a pretty good bang for their buck at four-year schools.
Our community colleges are not faring as well. Maryland’s two-year colleges received a D for student access and success, and for cost efficiency. While our retention rate is on par with the national average (ie: students keep enrolling for new classes), students are not moving on to complete at the rate they should be. In fact, we are in the bottom third of states for two-year completion rates. As a result, the cost per completion is sky high. We are actually spending more per graduate at the two-year level than we are at the four-year level, simply because so many students never make it through the pipeline.
Clearly we need to do better, and make smarter investments in programs and supports that lead to success. Finding and replicating best practices for promoting completion at community colleges must become a top priority within institutions and amongst policymakers. For many students – particularly non-traditional and low-income students – community colleges are the gateway to higher ed. Their long-term success in the labor market hinges on their ability to complete a credential, and we are clearly not doing enough to get them through the pipeline.
One thing is clear across the board. Graduates of both two and four-year institutions do far better in the labor market than their peers who never went on to college. According to the report card, BA holders earn 67% more than high school grads, and AA holders earn 38% more. Equally important in this economic climate – they are more likely to be employed, with unemployment rates 3.5 to 4 points lower than workers with high school only. While stories of recent grads struggling to find work are prevalent, in the long run, the investment still pays off.