MISSOULA (AP) — An education group says Montana families spend a higher percentage of their household income sending their children to public, in-state colleges and universities than families in other Western states.
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education reports that tuition and fees to attend a two-year college in Montana costs 8.1 percent of a family's median household income, compared with a regional average of 5.9 percent.
At the state's four-year universities, excluding the University of Montana and Montana State University, the ratio of median household income to tuition jumped from 8.4 percent in 2001 to 11.6 percent in 2011.
To attend UM or MSU, the ratio is 14.4 percent.
State officials tell the Missoulian that Montana doesn't have especially high tuition, but the state's lower salaries are causing the disparity.
"Not that we have high tuitions, but we are next to last in the nation in median household income," said Tyler Trevor, associate commissioner at the state office of Commissioner of Higher Education.
Trevor noted that the state's tuition and fees are below the regional average, and the state has increased tuition at its four-year campuses more slowly than other states in the region.
"The cost of higher education is going up faster than family income," said Matthew Reed, program director for the California-based Institute for College Access and Success. "That's true at the national level."
He added that many families earning Montana's median household income likely qualify for financial aid.
In 2003, 67 percent of resident students at Montana colleges received grants, Trevor said. That increased to 73 percent in 2010, he said.
"It's not to say the comparison is not helpful. It's helpful in showing that college is a major expense in the life of a family and it's going up faster than the family income. That's a concern," Reed said. "But a college education still remains a good investment because of the earnings that come after receiving a degree."