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Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014

Affording higher education

Sunday, January 6, 2013

In October, Indiana University announced it was freezing tuition for juniors and seniors who, after their sophomore year, were on track to graduate within four years.

It is encouraging to see that more Indiana colleges and universities are recognizing that the affordability of higher education -- and the extent to which a university education is a smart investment -- are critical issues facing students and families today.

American colleges and universities have taken their lumps in recent years.

Critics have catalogued a list of complaints, including tuitions rising faster than inflation, a lack of accountability for what students learn, and inadequate preparation for a highly competitive job market.

As the President of the University of Evansville, I would love to be able to say that these criticisms are without foundation, that the still high respect for American universities is richly deserved.

But though the critical voices are sometimes shrill and the complaints often overblown, their skepticism contains elements of truth.

A weak American economy has drawn particular attention to questions of college affordability and post-graduation outcomes.

It is certainly reasonable for a family to ask whether the substantial financial investment they make in a college education for their children will produce solid returns.

It is, in short, incumbent upon our colleges and universities to respond -- to let families know that we hear their concerns and are doing something about it.

To this end, in August, the University of Evansville took a bold step when we unveiled the "Big Freeze."

Almost all private colleges and universities have, for some time, increased tuition by an annual rate of about 4-5 percent -- and even more at public institutions hit by declining state support.

We are breaking from that mold by freezing tuition for students entering in the fall of 2013.

Moreover, we will guarantee that this tuition price will not increase for all four years of undergraduate study -- for new students and for our current students.

These changes eliminate the unpredictability of tuition increases and mean substantial savings for our families.

Importantly, our students and families will continue to receive the financial aid that has been a distinguishing characteristic of a UE education, with roughly 98 percent of UE undergraduates receiving substantial financial assistance.

We know, as well, that we must be more intentional about how we prepare students to compete in a challenging job market.

Our Center for Career Development, for example, offers through its Career Advantage Program, an opportunity for students -- even before they enroll as freshmen -- to discuss with career counselors possible fields of study and employment opportunities available for students in those areas.

The center offers, as well, an array of programs designed to support career exploration during a student's time at UE and after graduation.

In short, we have concluded that the UE experience should be accessible to those of modest financial means as well as to those more fortunate.

Research on the value of higher education consistently demonstrates that a college degree is an investment that produces remarkable returns.

The time has arrived for colleges and universities to make it possible for more students and families to afford that investment.