According to a recently released report from the National Student Clearinghouse, Kentucky's students who start at two-year public institutions have higher completion rates than their peers in the neighboring states of Ohio and Tennessee and in the nation.

The report tracks the fall 2010 cohort's six-year completion rates for students who began postsecondary education in fall 2010 on a KCTCS campus. Completions include diplomas, certificates and degrees, and may occur at the starting institutions or different two- and four-year institutions. It's important to note that students tracked included not only traditional full-time freshmen, but also part-time and adult students without a prior credential.

Six-year completion rates for students who started at two-year public institutions

As the chart indicates, public two-year college students in Kentucky surpass their counterparts in the nation and in neighboring states with regard to completion rates at their starting institutions. Specifically, Kentucky's rate of 31.8 percent is considerably higher than those for Ohio (23 percent), Tennessee (28.1 percent) and the national average (26.7 percent).

What can be done to increase completions?

Affordability, demographics and the labor market are key influences as to when, where and how students attend college. However, one variable - full-time attendance - is particularly important. According to the Center for Community College Student Engagement, full-time enrollment (even for one semester) considerably increases the chances of college completion. The Center's report, Even One Semester: Full-Time Enrollment and Student Success, notes that 34 percent of students who enroll full-time for at least one term earn a certificate or associate degree, compared to 23 percent of those who always enroll part-time.

A priority of the state's strategic agenda for postsecondary and adult education, as well as Kentucky's new performance funding model, is to increase persistence and timely completion of all students. Completion rates are monitored in the "Success" metrics, which will be featured at the June 16 Council meeting in Louisville.

On June 16, the Council will take action on campus tuition and mandatory fee proposals for the upcoming year. Rates for undergraduate, in-state students cannot exceed the ceilings set March 31 by the Council. Check out the following fast facts to learn more.

Tuition Fast Facts:

1. Most Kentucky students don't pay sticker price.

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The net prices for Kentucky's public institutions are considerably lower than the total cost of attendance. For example, the average total cost of attendance, which includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses, at one of Kentucky's comprehensive universities is $18,441. But the average net price — what a student really pays after the grants, scholarships and other forms of financial aid are applied — is $10,298, or 45 percent less.

2. Funding responsibility has shifted to students due to declining state investment.

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The decline of state investment is shifting the funding of higher education to students and their families through gross tuition and fee revenue. What used to be an equally divided responsibility at the onset of the recession has shifted to a 35/65 percent split by FY 16, with student tuition funding the majority.

3. Campus financial aid outpaces state and federal sources combined

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While increases in tuition are moderate again this year, the total cost of college attendance can be discouraging, especially to low-income or nontraditional students. Federal sources are time-limited and state sources often run out before all students receive help. To address this growing need, Kentucky’s public campuses have boosted institutional aid. Over the decade, campus-funded grants and scholarships have outpaced both state and federal grants. In 2013-14, Kentucky students received, on average, over three times as much institutional aid as state aid. To continue this trend, Kentucky’s public campuses expect to spend $23.5 million in institutional aid for FY 18, plus an extra $10.3 million in implementing new or expanded financial aid programs.

4. Tuition increases have been moderate, even in a decade of declining state investment.

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The shift of funding responsibility is a crucial concern of policymakers tasked with raising the state’s educational attainment numbers. When the Council and campus leadership consider caps on tuition increases, they factor in students’ family and individual incomes and their capacity to save for college or handle student loans. This has resulted in modest tuition increases, even in the face of growing campus revenue needs. Since 2009, the average annual growth rate for resident undergraduate tuition and fees has been 4.6 percent, compared to the previous seven-year, prerecession period at 11.7 percent.

5. Tuition increases do not balance campus budgets.

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It is important to note that tuition increases do not balance campus budgets. Besides cuts to state funding, campuses are facing expenses outside of university control: increases in mandatory state pension and health insurance contributions; inflationary cost increases, such as utilities, contractual obligations; and a cost shift from the state to the campuses for maintenance and operations of facilities.
For example, in FY 18, estimates show that Kentucky’s public campuses will experience increases of $42.1 million for fixed costs and $13.7 million for pension contributions. Provision of financial aid to low-income students, coupled with cost increases - while partially offset by tuition revenue - leaves Kentucky’s public campuses facing a $33.5 million shortfall next year. If campuses pursue the maximum percentage set by their tuition caps, equating to approximately $56.1 million in tuition revenue, they still will not cover these operational costs.

6. Student debt is a concern.

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Student loan debt is a significant concern to policymakers tasked with maintaining college affordability and increasing college access. Two out of three graduates from a public, private, for-profit or non-profit institution in 2015 had student debt, averaging $27,225 per borrower. This amount is less than most states in the region and less than the national average of $30,100. The Council's strategic plan calls for sufficient state operating and financial aid support, in addition to moderating tuition increases.

Average student debt of college graduates