University of Wyoming students are used to getting their As, Bs or even Fs at the end of a long semester, but it’s not often the state itself gets a grade.
Wyoming received an A in a study analyzing every state’s financial support for post-secondary education, recently published by Young Invincibles, a research and advocacy group. No other state was given an A — instead, 17 states got an F and 12 got a D.
Wyoming’s state spending per student most impressed the study’s author, Tom Allison, deputy policy and research director.
“When you look at spending per student, it’s almost three times the national average — nearly $15,500 per full-time student per year,” he said. “That’s the kind of structural support resulting from consistent, lower tuition at the University of Wyoming and community colleges.”
Spending per student is one of six metrics compiled into the final grade. Attainment equity, which essentially analyzed the minority groups in the state and the university, was not completed because of small sample size.
Along with spending per student, the financial burden placed on families also received an A+.
“Tuition at four-year schools is only 8 percent of the state’s median income, the lowest in the nation,” the study states. “Wyoming also has the lowest family share of college’s cost at 15 percent.”
This means Wyoming covers about 85 percent of every resident student’s college payment. The average in-state tuition for UW, about $4,600 according to the 2014 data used for the study (current UW estimate is $4,891 for school year 2015-2016), is the lowest in the country. Community college tuition was estimated at about $2,700, the ninth-lowest in the country.
“In the last few years — also, since the recession — the state has shown a commitment to higher education, resulting in very low tuition, strong financial aid and below-average student debt level,” Allison said. “Wyoming should be proud of the support.”
Many states’ academic budgets were cut as a result of the 2008 recession, which lead Allison to create the report, mostly to see if each state’s higher education financing changed or rebounded in the past eight years.
“I think Wyoming should be proud of its investment for jobs in the future — health care, engineering and more,” he said. “It’s good to see some of these states invest when they have the oil and gas money available, even though it will likely go away.”
In addition to low tuition, a stable rate is just as important, Allison stressed. Many states raised the cost of attendance quickly to account for severe budget cuts.
“If your family starts trying to save for college when you’re in eighth or ninth grade, if tuition goes up 50 percent in those four-five years, it can really disrupt your savings plan,” he said. “Look at Florida. It still has below-average tuition, but the fact it increased by 53 percent really makes it difficult for families.”
Wyoming did get an F in “education as a state priority.” However, the study used data from the National Association of State Budget Officers that might not be correct. Wyoming has consistently put 10 percent of its annual budget into higher education, not the 4 percent cited in the study.
“Still, even if the data is wrong, to be the only state that gets an A really shows that Wyoming is on the right path,” Allison said.
Wyoming’s final metric grade, a C, was for the state aid to students, which includes both residents and nonresidents. The grade does not include private or federal funds.
“When you compare to states with similar amounts of students, like Vermont or Delaware, the investment just isn’t there,” Allison said. “Vermont spends less than $3,000 per student, and their student debts are high.”
The study puts UW’s average student debt at just below $23,000. Vermont averages about $27,000 for graduated student debt, with Delaware at more than $32,000.
Trustee Mike Massie was happy to learn Wyoming ranked first on the list.
“It’s nice to get these accolades, but they’re just showing what we already know,” he said.
The encouraging data was also no shock to UW spokesperson Chad Baldwin.
“It’s no surprise to me,” he said. “The Legislature and governor have been extremely supportive of the university. They made it a priority to make it accessible and affordable, and these numbers illustrate that.”