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Making college more affordable

West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee actually was being a bit modest when he spoke of affordability during his State of the University speech last week.

“Only six out of 50 flagship (state) universities are affordable for most students, according to a recent Institute for Higher Education Policy report,” Gee noted. WVU is one of the six, but that is not the full story.

Researchers at the IHEP looked into whether five theoretical students, representing different categories, could afford to attend the state universities. The categories were for students relying on at least some help from low-, middle- and high-income families and for independent students both with and without their own dependents. Factors including income, cost of school attendance and availability of loans and grants were factored into the study.

WVU was rated as affordable for students in three of the five categories. It was the only state flagship institution judged to be affordable for both categories of students without access to help from their families.

Both WVU and state policymakers who help with financial aid programs are to be commended. In a state with the lowest education attainment rate in the nation, getting more people into and out of colleges and universities is critical.

Going deeper into the numbers shows that we in West Virginia need to do better, however. In two critical categories — students from low- and middle-income families — the institute found a gap between the cost of attendance at WVU and resources available to pay the bill. The good news is that the dollar-amount gap for students from low-income families was narrower at only four other universities.

Gee and others at WVU have every reason to be proud of their showing in the affordability study. That cannot be emphasized too strongly.

At the same time, WVU and, again, state policymakers need to be finding ways to do more to help West Virginians obtain college degrees. Education is the key to a brighter future not just for individuals, but also for our state as a whole.

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