A College Education Has Become An Essential Part Of The American Dream
A college education has become an essential part of the American Dream for millions of families. Indeed, extensive polling and focus group research conducted by our coalition of higher education associations in the last year clearly demonstrates that the public overwhelmingly believes higher education is vitally important for personal success. Furthermore, they believe that all children should have the chance to attend postsecondary education and, despite the high price, that college is a “good value” for the money.
On the other hand, the public also is greatly concerned about the affordability of higher education, believes it is too expensive, and thinks that the price can be brought down without affecting academic quality. The public vastly overestimates the price of higher education at all types of colleges and dramatically underestimates the amount of financial aid that is available to help meet college bills. They don’t know where student aid comes from or how to apply for it. Nor does the public understand why college prices increase. Most worrisome, perhaps, they think college leaders are indifferent to their concerns about the price of attending college. Our research also demonstrates that Americans worry about financing a college education. The lack of knowledge about paying for college is most acute among at-risk populations — first-generation college students, low-income families, and members of minority groups.
The great divergence between the value that the public places on having access to higher education and the lack of information they have about what it costs and how to afford it — what we call “the knowledge gap” — is deeply troubling. No one with a commitment to higher education can be satisfied with the news that the public is so poorly informed about issues of choice and access. It is surely a danger signal that the public believes college officials are indifferent to their fears about being able to afford a postsecondary education for their children.
THE NEED FOR A NATIONAL COALITION
What can be done? We believe that two related steps are absolutely essential. First, colleges and universities must redouble their efforts to explain college costs, the prices that students are charged, the amount and sources of financial aid that are available, and the options for financing a college education. We must reach out to a broad range of business, community, and religious organizations and solicit their support in improving public understanding.
Second, and no less important, colleges and universities must take strong steps to manage and contain costs, share innovative and successful cost management strategies, expand efforts to explain why costs increase on campuses, and talk candidly about the steps that have been taken to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
To help meet this need, a large number of higher education associations have banded together to help close “the knowledge gap.” With the help of many colleges and universities and a large number of partner organizations, we hope to increase public awareness about the ways to finance a higher education. We have named this effort the “College is Possible” campaign because it underscores the central point we wish to make: a college education is an achievable goal for every academically qualified student.
This effort will not succeed without the help of college and university officials. Closing the “knowledge gap” depends on the willingness of college presidents, administrators, and trustees to recognize the public’s concerns and to address them candidly and openly. This paper is designed to provide background information on the issue and ideas on steps you can take on your campus and in your community.
DIVERSE STRATEGIES WITH A COMMON THEME
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy that will work for every college. However, there are a number of simple themes that we urge you to incorporate into your efforts. You can illustrate the following points by adopting them, as appropriate, to your individual institution.
– Seven out of ten full-time undergraduate students receive financial aid to meet college bills.
– College officials care about the financial burden that a college education can impose on families and will work to help families afford a college education.
– College officials have taken cost-cutting and budget-tightening initiatives to stabilize tuition increases.
It is especially important that college officials communicate effectively about steps they have taken to minimize the need for tuition increases. Unlike profit-making businesses that often find their public perceptions enhanced by aggressive cost-cutting strategies, many colleges are reluctant to talk about budget reduction initiatives lest it convey the impression that academic quality has been damaged. Every campus has taken significant steps to reduce costs while enhancing quality and should call attention to these efforts regularly.
Clearly, no single paper on college affordability will meet the needs of every campus. Public colleges and private institutions will address some issues differently, and community colleges will emphasize still other points. Urban campuses and rural schools will look at the issues differently. Not all of the events will work for all campuses. Rather than a single model, our intention is to provide a wide range of information and suggestions with the conviction that campuses adapt them to meet local needs and circumstances.
Most importantly, we believe it is essential for all colleges and universities to begin to engage the public on these issues. For too long, college officials have assumed that the public had a reasonable understanding of what it cost to attend college and understood, at least in a general sense, that billions of dollars in financial aid were available. We were wrong and that error has heightened public concern. We now have an opportunity, working together, to clarify and expand the public understanding of issues related to financing a postsecondary education, and to convey the important message that “College is Possible.”
While college can be an expensive proposition, studies show that most people vastly overestimate the price of a college degree. This is due in part to the tendency of the media to focus on a handful of colleges with the highest tuitions. The danger is that it can lead parents and students to believe that a college education is beyond their means.
Most parents and students are not aware that there are billions available annually in grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans to help pay for college. So, while parents and students may get “sticker shock” when they read about tuition prices at some colleges, they should know that the majority of students today receive some form of financial assistance to help pay for college.
While a college degree is often the biggest investment a family will make besides buying a home, going to college is usually possible. For those who wish to attend college, there is almost always a way to help pay for it.
Colleges and universities are also concerned about tuition prices. Through innovative cost cutting and budget initiatives, college administrators have stabilized tuition increases and improved quality. Such efforts include restructuring budgets; streamlining services; staff cuts and change; and cooperative arrangements with other colleges and universities to receive discounts on purchases such as services, insurance, supplies, or even electric power. These innovations have gone far toward offsetting the increases in the cost of technology, security, and other items required to provide a high quality education. While college will always be costly (because it is so labor intensive), administrators continue to look for ways to make college more affordable.
One recent study showed that workers with bachelor’s degrees earn an average of 50 percent more than those with a high school diploma. A college degree offers students an enormous advantage in an economy that increasingly honors specific skills and technical expertise. And while college is certainly a significant investment, studies show that the benefits far outweigh the costs in the long run.
Society benefits from college-educated Americans. Those with college degrees are, on average, healthier and more likely to be employed. They vote, and volunteer in their communities. Such individuals are less likely to be on public assistance or incarcerated.
Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of https://Ebookschoice.com. Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.