When Mitch Daniels transitioned from Indiana governor to Purdue University president in 2013, he took a bold step and asked university trustees to freeze tuition. Now, he’s asking them to do so for a third straight year.
Those actions speak loudly and present a message that universities and colleges need to hear: The cost of attaining a college degree is out of reach for many high school graduates, and schools must make it a priority to reduce the financial burden.
A record percentage of this year’s freshmen reported that they declined their first college choice. The most common reason: Cost.
That alone should give colleges cause for pause. They want and need students. But if cost is prohibitive, students won’t come.
Students want bang for their buck. That means value.
Just because a college costs more doesn’t mean it will provide a better education than less-expensive options. That is being shown in a new Gallup-Purdue index, a poll of 30,000 graduates that asked what kinds of schools are associated with success. The poll indicated that it matters more how students approach education than which university they attended.
Another finding: A lot of student debt has even more serious, lifelong repercussions than previously thought, and reform of the student aid system is necessary.
One problem Daniels noted is that while a lot of loans and grants were made available to students, colleges raised their prices at the same time.
Colleges should understand from the poll that students don’t want to take on a mountain of debt that they will have to pay off for many years just to attend a college considered prestigious, especially if they find a better value elsewhere.
Daniels said he has seen encouraging signs from some universities and state legislatures that are addressing the affordability issue.
In Columbus, for example, IUPUC and Ivy Tech Community College have taken measures to save students money, which in turn makes the schools even more attractive as options. For the third consecutive year, IUPUC is offering a 25 percent discount on summer classes to eligible students. Columbus is the latest Ivy Tech campus to offer a fast-track program to an associate degree, taking 11 months instead of two years, and for less than $8,000.
Parents and students shouldn’t have to shift their budgets.
Rather than force students and their families to reach beyond their means to pay for college tuition, colleges need to match their costs to the budgets of applicants. That starts with cutting spending that isn’t related to the mission of helping students attain college degrees.
Daniels should be commended for his efforts to hold tuition costs in check, explore ways to reduce costs and prove the university’s value to students.
More universities would be wise to follow that example.