A Comparison of Tuition Disparities among City, Suburban, Town, and Rural Public Community Colleges

Article excerpt

This article explores differences in tuition rates between and among U.S. public community colleges formulated upon urbanization criteria extracted from the Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System. The study compares full-time in-district tuition, in-state tuition, and out-of-state tuition between and among selected U.S. public community colleges by degree of institutional urbanization. Analyses of tuition data indicate no differences in full-time, in-district tuition. Significant differences are found to exist in full-time, instate and out-of-state tuition. Post hoc analyses identify significant differences in full-time, in-state tuition between suburban colleges and their town and rural counterparts. Differences are also identified in full-time, out-of-state tuition between and among city and suburban colleges and their town and rural counterparts. Specifically, the full-time, out-of-state tuition rates for town colleges differ from those of city and suburban institutions. Suburban colleges also differed from rural institutions.

Introduction

During the past 50 years, community colleges have increased in number and evolved to meet the changing needs of an increasingly diverse student population. No other segment of post-secondary education has been more responsive to the needs of its community (Kasper, 2002). Community colleges have had significant increases in enrollments, outpacing the enrollment growth of educational institutions offering bachelor's degrees. Enrollment at public four-year colleges and universities nearly doubled from 1965 to 1999, while enrollments at public community colleges have increased approximately five-fold (Kasper).

Although average community college tuition and fees have outstripped inflation, these tuition and fees have increased at a slower pace than have tuition and fees at public 4-year colleges. Accordingly, community colleges have emerged as an affordable alternative for students considering the pursuit of postsecondary education and workforce training. Pope indicated that tuition at two-year colleges rose 4.2% to $2,361 in 2007. However, the average tuition and fees at four-year public colleges rose 6.6% in 2007. Pope recognized community colleges as more successful at keeping the lid on the rising cost of education than their four-year counterparts (2007).

Though tuition at public community colleges is generally less than tuition at public four-year colleges and universities, discrepancies appear to exist in the cost of attending community colleges in urban areas, suburban areas, and rural areas. Differences based on the degree of institutional urbanization appear to have an impact on the accessibility and aff ordability of community colleges. While geographic location is expected to have an impact on accessibility, geographic locations may also have an unexpected influence on community college tuition rates.

Location made a difference in terms of educational attainment and economic prosperity, measures by which many of the nation's rural areas and urban centers alike lag behind the rest of the nation (Fischer & Hebel, 2006). Access issues cut across community colleges at all locales: rural, urban, and suburban. Low tuition and equitable financial aid are essential components for success. Over the past decade, states have chosen to allow dramatic increases in tuition rather than increase appropriations for community colleges. Neither state nor federal financial aid programs have made up the difference in increased costs. As a result, a community college education, earned at either rural or urban institutions, has become less affordable for low-income students (Katsinas, Alexander, & Opp, 2003).

Statement of the Problem

Working-class students throughout the United States have increasingly discovered the average price of fouryear colleges to be out of reach. Growing numbers of these students have chosen to enroll in community colleges (Burd, 2006). …