Given continual tuition hikes, students and parents are feeling the weight of an increase in debt and the panic from a decrease in cash. Students aren’t the only ones feeling the financial pain. Hikes in tuition are negatively impacting colleges and universities across the country, as well.
In an outlook report released in January, Moody’s Investors Services reveals that nearly half of all universities have reported lower enrollment for fall 2012. Moreover, many schools have increased tuition significantly in recent years but still struggle to make ends meet. Consulting firm Bain & Company produced an analysis in 2012 that concluded about a third of colleges and universities are spending more than they can afford.
Several schools are responding by refusing to raise tuition. Public schools in Arizona and Texas recently decided to freeze in-state tuition, as did many private schools across the country. Among the private schools that froze tuition last fall are Burlington College in Burlington, Vt., Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind., Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan. and Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H.
But some schools are taking a more visionary approach. They are rising to President Obama’s challenge for creative, innovative solutions to the problem of rising college costs. Obama has emphasized that a quality education is not a privilege; it’s an economic necessity. He suggests that universities share responsibility with the government to keep college as an affordable option.
Attempting a solution
Paul Quinn College in Dallas is seeking federal recognition as a work college, which means each student is required to hold a job on campus. At Paul Quinn, a portion of the money each student earns goes directly toward the tuition bill. Kendrea Tannis, the dean of the work program, wants students to connect what they are doing in school to the life skills they learn on the job. The work program not only makes tuition more affordable, but also helps show them that their education is an investment and that a paycheck doesn’t have to be the primary motivator for a strong work ethic, she says.
Harrison College concluded that the rising cost of tuition was driving people away from higher education and decided to freeze tuition in 2006.
“It’s incumbent upon all of us in higher education to look for innovative ways to make it affordable for everyone to attain a college education,” says Catherine Stiver, the marketing director at Harrison College. For the spring 2013 semester, Harrison College opted to also reduce the cost of tuition by 10 percent for certain majors. The nine programs selected, including a B.S. in project management, B.S. in information technology and A.A.S. in paralegal, are meant to give graduates the skills necessary to obtain a job quickly. Since the school implemented the new policy, Harrison has recorded an increase in enrollment and retention.
Duquesne University in Pittsburgh also chose to address the state of the job market. In 2011, Duquesne had only 60 freshmen enroll in the undergraduate program at the School of Education — a significant drop from the 90 students who enrolled the year before. According to associate provost Paul-James Cukanna, because of the economy, students were shying away from the degree. “We know educators are key to society, and we have a leading teacher program,” says Cukanna.
Realizing the value of a degree in education, the administration now offers a scholarship that cuts the cost of tuition in half. As a result, Duquesne’s School of Education had 120 freshmen enroll in fall 2012, and it noticed an increase in ethnic, gender and geographic diversity. Cukanna holds the scholarship up as an example of how institutions should “respond strategically to market forces that they do not control.”
Seton Hall University has a history of making school affordable for high-achieving students. And yet, public schools in the state, such as Rutgers University, were still more appealing to students because of the lower sticker price. Therefore, beginning with freshmen in fall 2012, Seton Hall lowered the price of its tuition to match the tuition at public universities for high-achieving applicants. The discount amounts to more than $22,000.
“The financial landscape being what it is, we wanted to make sure that we were doing our part to make a college education more affordable,” says Alyssa McCloud, Seton Hall’s vice president of enrollment. McCloud also emphasized that Seton Hall’s public tuition rate program is a way for the school to be transparent about what students can expect to pay over four years.
Considering additional costs
Most talk about college finances revolves around tuition, but another significant expense is books. According to the College Board, the average student at a public university spends about $1,200 each year on books. In order to help with this necessary expense, the University of Dayton implemented a free book program two years ago. The university contributes $500 each semester to a book fund for every student whose family completes the FAFSA and makes an official visit to the university. Students have the option to purchase new, used, electronic or rental books from the university bookstore with the funds. Kathy Harmon, the dean of admissions and financial aid, says the policy is a “great benefit for students at all income ranges.”
She emphasizes that the university’s motivations were not self-serving. “It was not about increasing enrollment and improving retention. Both of those areas are very strong for us. It’s truly about being transparent and working with families to make this possible.” One positive change she has noticed is that she no longer meets with students whose families figured out how to pay for tuition, but then didn’t have money for books.
These colleges have all made the effort to step outside the box and implement creative solutions. Josh Hall, the associate director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says that a lot of extra cost comes from schools trying to compete with other schools, so they add on more expensive initiatives, like nabbing high-profile professors or adding a technology wing to the library, prompting other colleges to follow suit.
Paul Quinn focuses on changing the education model by becoming a work college. Seton Hall wants to reward students who perform well. Duquesne is concentrating on building up a talented group of young people with degrees in education. By innovatively addressing one aspect of the problem of rising tuition, each of these schools is helping both students and themselves.
But Hall has worked to consider even more ways colleges can help cut costs. “We don’t have enough institutions who realize what their niche is,” he muses.