How to Make College Affordable
It’s no wonder college affordability is in the news so much these days, given that tuition has risen over the past 30 years at a rate that surpasses even healthcare costs. Shifting state appropriations, spiraling costs (including providing healthcare to university employees) and other factors have conspired to create our current situation, and on top of all of that, we now learn from the Census Bureau that college enrollments were down by almost 500,000 students from 2011 to 2012.
But there are still many people for whom education is the key to their future, so how can institutions help these learners manage the cost of achieving their goal? As is often the case, I find some simple words of wisdom from my father appropriate: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world starts looking like a nail.”
With apologies to Abraham Maslow, higher learning institutions have huge investments in the tools of the trade: facilities, faculties and degree programs. And while these served students well for generations, modern times require other tools to fill up our toolbox and keep costs low for non-traditional learners.
Here are a few that come to mind, and I suspect readers can offer many more that will be of value:
- Focus on advising both applicants and students, and capture what you learn in that process to inform new program development, support services and student recruitment efforts
- Don’t sell a degree to a certificate seeker; give them what they need. Additionally, while most certificate seekers do not become degree seekers, treat them like they will anyway, because if nothing else, they are talking about your institution to family and friends
- Deconstruct your degrees and even individual courses to create certificates that make sense within the context learned in your advising activities above
- Use your faculty wisely to assure quality, and cultivate a pool of adjuncts that understand adult learners. These individuals frequently do a great job, represent your institution well and save you from overusing full-time members of a campus faculty
- Partner with employers to meet their needs, because doing so will ultimately meet the needs of your adult learners
- Think about pricing that makes sense — set prices based on value rather than seat time or credits and, when possible, use volume to drive costs down for individual learners
- Similarly, use online formats to cut costs and, when possible, hybridize courses to get the best of both worlds and save money (and travel and time) for the student
- Offer no-frills programs. Rather than offering multiple electives, provide programs that are lock-step and build spiraling curricula that provides flexibility to a student population that can’t always stay in step
- Take a look at Prior Learning Assessment, Massive Open Online Courses and other implements that might speed up the time to degree or certificate
And whatever you do, don’t overlook your continuing education (CE) unit. They probably already know how to lower the cost of attendance while bolstering the good name of the institution. If you don’t have a CE unit, build one! They will be worth their weight in gold in the new economy of badges and certificates that are only going to become more prevalent in the coming years.
Author Perspective: Administrator