A recently released report on college affordability from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) presents Kentucky as more affordable for low-income families than the national average; however, the report calls for a stronger partnership between states and the federal government to make college more accessible by allocating additional student grants.

SHEEO presents the college cost burden for low-income families based on net price[1] for first-time, full-time undergraduates at public two-year and four-year institutions. As Figure 1 shows, net price varies between sectors and among states. Kentucky’s net price at public four-year institutions is lower than the national average and for Ohio and Tennessee, but higher than West Virginia. At two-year institutions, Kentucky’s net price is the lowest among the comparative states and the nation.

Figure 1: Net price at four- and two-year institutions for families earning up to $48,000 in Kentucky and other states.

States vary greatly in the level of cost burden for students. Figure 2 presents net price as a percentage of the US lowest income families earning $30,000 at public two-year institutions for 50 states. The shares range from the highest of 51 percent in New Hampshire to the lowest of 15 percent in Mississippi, with the national average of 23. Kentucky’s low-income families pay approximately 19 percent of their annual earnings to cover out-of-pocket college costs.

Net price of two-year institutions as a percent of income for families earning $30,000.
Figure 2: Net price of two-year institutions as a percent of income for families earning $30,000.

A similar variation exists for families earning $30,000 enrolled at four-year public institutions, presented in Figure 3. Kentucky is below the national average, with 32 percent of family income dedicated to paying the net price of a college education (32 percent in Kentucky compared to 36 percent nationally). For low-income families, the average cost of a public four-year education in Kentucky after receiving financial aid accounts for 32 percent of their annual income.

Net price as a percent of income for families earning $30,000.
Figure 3: Net price of four-year institutions as a percent of income for families earning $30,000.

To meet the affordability thresholds for low-income students, SHEEO proposes that states should increase per-student educational appropriations and the federal government should match each state's effort dollar-for-dollar. To learn more about the SHEEO college affordability model, please review the report. To learn more about affordability in terms of student debt and repayment, view the Council's report.

[1] Net price is the actual costs to the student after financial aid has been awarded. A low income family with children is defined by yearly earnings up to $48,000.


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.