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Don’t dismiss private colleges as an alternative

Letter to the editor in the March 20, 2009, issue of the Austin Business Journal.

As the nation’s economic situation worsens, stories have been appearing in the media about an increase in applications to public universities from families who are afraid they can no longer afford the cost of private higher education.   Before making such a decision, however, it is important to ask several questions. For example, what is the graduation rate at the school you are considering? How much financial assistance is available? What is the quality of academic and student life?

A study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 79 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients at private colleges and universities earned degrees in four years, compared to just 49 percent of their counterparts at public colleges and universities. At the public colleges and universities, it is more common for students to take five or six years to graduate. There are many reasons for this, but one is because students attending private colleges are more likely to be able to get into the classes they need to graduate. If it takes a student an extra year or two to graduate, families have to pay an extra year or two of tuition. Plus, the students are not out in the workforce earning money.  

Another commonly overlooked fact is that private colleges typically offer substantially more financial assistance than public ones. At private colleges, students who demonstrate financial need may actually end up paying close to or less than it would cost them to attend a public university.

If you have a child who is currently in college, or planning to attend college, it is worth taking time to really think through the numbers – and seriously consider what type of education you want your child to receive.

Ruling out a private college because it seems expensive might not make economic sense.

Jake B. Schrum
President
Southwestern University