Affordability of higher education for our students is an ongoing concern and commitment for us as an institution but is also a topic that has soared in the public interest lately. We know you must have thought about this in the national organizations in which you have served, such as the Tuition Plan Consortium, the Association of American Universities, and the Consortium on Financing Higher Education. What can you share of your current views on tuition models and the stewardship of institutions like ours that are so heavily dependent on tuition revenue in order to serve the public good? For optimal financial health of the University of Redlands, what will be the best balance of strategies we need?
The kind of personalized, independent, custom-fit higher education Redlands will continue to offer is definitely not the “broken business plan” about which pundits currently moan. An intimate educational experience at Redlands continues to be the best way to learn, and a liberal education the best path toward constant adaptability to change and success in life. Nevertheless, our approach and our noble ideals cannot persist without serious commitment to change.
Student loans are averaging in the range of $25-30,000 now, and that means an average loan payment of about $200/month. But the averages hide the realities that some US grads are paralyzed with heartbreaking $100,000-level debts. Loans are not a big economic mistake; the bigger economic mistake is not going to college. The costs of higher education have risen, just like those in the service economy – healthcare and technology – and in national defense and in social services of all kinds. That doesn’t change the reality that the public is concerned and that the political campaigns of both Obama and Romney leading up to November will focus on the cost of college, because like job creation, college is part of the personal way in which the economy hits us.
Working together as a Redlands family, I hope we will take a highly diversified approach to helping solve the affordability issue for our students. Let’s become a cost model for others by being ever more efficient. We can continue to plan carefully for smart growth in enrollment and growth in what we offer that plays to our academic strengths. Selective excellence is the key to smart growth. Today’s students overwhelmingly want the residential college experience, but they also want multiple digital technologies in our classrooms and online. In 2012, we know far more about the science of how people learn than in previous decades. Let’s use that and make sure that digital technologies are not fluff but are used to one end – better learning. Economies will follow.
The economics of affordability requires a portfolio of responses. The federal government needs to do its part. According to reports on NPR based on Edward Humes’s book Over Here, the original GI bill produced 14 future Nobel Prize winners, 3 Supreme Court justices, 3 presidents, a dozen U.S. senators, hundreds of thousands of scientists, doctors, and dentists, 450,000 future engineers, and innumerable career successes that comprised an entire generation. Continued enhancements in today’s post-9/11 GI bill can provide access for another generation. And acceleration of Pell grants and federal loans will help ensure access for students from every part of the socioeconomic spectrum.
Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles can save for college. University of Redlands is a long-serving member of the Tuition Plan Consortium, the organization that offers the Private College 529 Plan [https://www.privatecollege529.com], which is the only tax-advantaged 529 plan for private colleges. I serve as a director on its national board. It is the only vehicle by which future students’ relatives and friends can pre-purchase tomorrow’s tuition at today’s price, guaranteed. U of R already supports this prepayment plan as a powerful way for its alumni and others to plan for and reduce college costs.
On the revenue side, we can recognize the power of globalism. As we become able to recruit students from regions where the largest populations of college-ready students are – China and India to be sure, but also Brazil, Argentina, and Eastern Europe, where growing demand outstrips government’s ability to provide higher education – we will become simultaneously more intellectually diverse and affordable.
The economics of value is as important as cost. Let’s invest in faculty of the highest quality and support them as scholar teachers with endowed professorships. Let’s invest in more individualized independent research and creative activities between faculty and students. Let’s invest in using the entire calendar year and all our real estate resources smartly. Let’s invest in a higher graduation rate. Graduation “on time,” or even early, goes to the bottom line for students and universities alike. The for-profit sector has been an interesting experiment in access but has done a miserable job, even fraudulent job, of graduating students, with percentage completion rates in the single or low double digits. We are doing well, but we can do even better, given the quality of the students and faculty that comprise the Redlands community of scholars.
What can all of us do in the Redlands family? All of us who are alumni, friends, parents, industry partners, and regional partners who have received greatly from U of R can “give forward.” Tuition pays only part of the true cost of the superior education we deliver, one that results in the engaged and responsible citizenry this nation needs. Therefore, in the coming comprehensive campaign for Redlands, we will need to emphasize scholarship grant funds that are endowed in perpetuity. Collectively, we at U of R will change the way we do what we do, so as to inspire confident and selfless giving by others. Philanthropy is an American tradition and will be an essential part of solving the affordability problem. But we can’t ask people to give to support our doing things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them. By deserving support, we will vastly increase the number of individual professorships and endowed scholarships at Redlands that will make a Redlands education ever more affordable in the future.