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Connecticut earns national top marks for public colleges despite cost

Connecticut Post logo Connecticut Post 6/2/2021 By Cayla Bamberger
a sign on the side of a tree: Connecticut’s public colleges and universities ranked high on a national list of best places for a higher education. © Provided by Connecticut Post

Connecticut’s public colleges and universities ranked high on a national list of best places for a higher education.

A new report ranks states on their public higher education options, and Connecticut tops the list.

The seventh of its kind, a recent SmartAsset analysis of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System 2018-19 data compared states’ four-year public universities across five metrics: undergraduate graduation rate, average net price, student-to-faculty ratio, 20-year return on investment and in-state attendance rate.

a group of people standing in front of a large crowd watching: Connecticut’s public colleges and universities ranked high on a national list of best places for a higher education. © Provided by Connecticut Post

Connecticut’s public colleges and universities ranked high on a national list of best places for a higher education.

The analysts selected the metrics “to find the states where public colleges and universities are more affordable and offer a greater (return on investment),” said a spokesperson for SmartAsset.

Connecticut and its 11 four-year public colleges, including UConn and CSCU schools, ranked fourth in the nation. Virginia, New Jersey and North Carolina were named top three; Delaware was not ranked because of incomplete data.

The five indicators show Connecticut schools exceeded peer institutions in other states at supporting students across the finish line and prepping them for the workforce. Still, the report showed the state has room to improve local enrollment and affordability compared with the rest of the nation.

Analysts weighted metrics according to undergraduate enrollment size, then assessed states on each of the five indicators. Each state’s average ranking was used to compile a final nationwide list.

Connecticut schools had the sixth best undergraduate graduation rate in the country — about 67 percent of students. The average student-to-faculty ratio at the state’s colleges and universities ranked fourth nationally.

UConn specifically has a four-year graduation rate of 73 percent, which is seventh among public universities nationwide, according to a university spokesperson. The school credits its high rate to efforts to keep students engaged from the onset of their college careers.

“UConn works hard to make students feel welcome and valued at all steps in their time at the university and has many groups working to identify and address barriers they might face,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

“For instance, the university has special programming and outreach to first-generation college students to ensure they receive guidance and mentorship, and know they always have people who can help them navigate unfamiliar processes or situations,” she said.

On the downside, Connecticut fell below the national median for attracting in-state students to its public institutions. Connecticut ranked 29th of all states and had an in-state attendance rate of 18 percent, according to the report and data from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. The metric is a percentage of students who graduated high school in 2018 and enrolled in an in-state college.

Connecticut also ranked 42nd in affordability of higher education, making it among the most expensive states to attend four-year public universities. The average net price charged to first-time, full-time undergraduate students who were awarded grant or scholarship aid is $17,473, analysts estimated.

Despite the high price tag, the state was in the top third of states for offering a high 20-year return on investing in higher education: $384,174, analysts estimate.

Joe Bertolino, president of Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, said ensuring students are prepared for the workforce is among the university’s top priorities.

“Most of the jobs our students will have in 20 years don’t even exist yet,” said Bertoline. “So most of our time, I think, is spent teaching students not just the subject matter but, more importantly, the ability to think critically, to write, to work in teams, to be collaborative, to build relationships.”

Bertoline said SCSU has played a key role in connecting its students, who often take an out-sized risk to attend and pay for four-year colleges, to employers that make their time and money worth the investment.

That emphasis on local networking is especially important for career development given that about 85 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut, according to the university president.

“We spent a great deal of time building that infrastructure to help students,” he said. “Most of our students are not just full time students.”

“Many of them are working; they have to care for families, even more so now as a result of the pandemic... So a lot of these services help with that,” he said.

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