Better bang for the buck in North Dakota, Minnesota for higher ed
GRAND FORKS -- The cost of attending colleges and universities in eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota are still mostly on the low end compared to similar institutions nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education's new online "college scorecard."
Graduation rates, meanwhile, put regional institutions mostly in the middle of the pack nationally.
North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, who has expressed concern with costs and graduation rates, said he thinks North Dakota institutions can do better.
The college scorecard is available through the White House website and helps students find colleges based on affordability, location, future occupation and other factors.
The site also allows students to see how a university compares to institutions nationwide that offer the same education level. For example, the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks primarily offers bachelor's degrees and it was compared with others that do the same.
Among four-year institutions around the nation, UND, North Dakota State University in Fargo and the University of Minnesota, Crookston, are considered low-cost universities with medium graduation rates.
It costs a UND student an average of $11,952 a year, including tuition and room and board. On average, 54.3 percent of students graduate within six years with a bachelor's degree.
For NDSU, it's $13,284 and 53.7 percent. For UMC, it's $11,422 and 46.4 percent.
Some four-year institutions in the three-state region boast better graduation rates.
South Dakota State University is also low cost at $12,815 but boasts a high graduation rate of 59.7 percent. The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, is medium cost at $16,019 and has a high graduation rate of 70.2 percent.
Among two-year institutions, Lake Region State College in Devils Lake and Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, Minn., are medium-cost colleges. Lake Region costs $7,460 and NCTC costs $8,537.
Lake Region, though, has what's considered a high graduation rate among its peers: 52.4 percent of students graduate with an associate's degree within three years. NCTC has a medium graduation rate at 29.6 percent.
Earlier this week, Shirvani said he believes graduation rates can be improved with the statewide education reform plan he introduced last year, which aimed to pair students with institutions they are most suitable for. He stressed the importance of students at four-year institutions graduating in four years, particularly for the state's two research universities, UND and NDSU.
The college scorecard does not show how many students graduate in four years, but Shirvani said Thursday that 23 percent of UND students and 22 percent of NDSU students do so compared to 47 percent of U of M students.
Student debt was considered medium at the majority of colleges and universities in the region. After completing or leaving school, former UND students pay a median of $197.02 per month and former NDSU students $182.98.
Former Lake Region students pay $77.68, considered low, while former NCTC students pay $111.57, considered high.
The median monthly payments were based on an interest rate of 6.8 percent and included all federal loans borrowed by a student who graduated or withdrew in 2010-11.
The cost of higher education in North Dakota has skyrocketed in recent years, with total student debt at the Bank of North Dakota alone reaching $1.68 billion at the end of 2012.
Shirvani said the college scorecard data is evidence that UND and NDSU have avoided charging high tuition adopted by other public colleges and universities in the mid-1990s, and he expects the state's two research universities to keep costs low.
"Given the state's newfound wealth," he said, "we would expect both our institutions to steer clear of what has become a national embarrassment with so many low- and middle-income families choosing to opt out of postsecondary educational opportunities due to the high level of debt from borrowing."
The college scorecard is at 1.usa.gov/11Fen0n.