I Believe In Higher Education… Do You?

Ivory Tower

Recently, I came across a documentary – Ivory Tower. Written and directed by Andrew Rossi, this June 2014 documentary tackles the question: Is college worth the cost? Ivory Tower delves into the over 1 TRILLION dollars in student loan debt our country has amassed as of March 2014.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 launched the Federal Student Aid program with both grant and loan programs. As Ivory Tower reveals, in 1977 a Federal Pell Grant would cover, on average, 116% of a student’s college tuition. In 2014, only 42% is covered by the same grant. The remaining 58% is split between the institution, the state, the student and his or her family. With state funding for tuition assistance in drastic decline, student loans – both federal and private – have picked up the slack.

I have witnessed both the promise of a better future and the economic hardship student loans can facilitate. When I was a financial aid director I would often face a student sitting on the other side of my desk asking to withdraw from college. At the point they hit my office for counseling all they wanted was their ticket punched to leave campus and go home. Yet, when a student drops out of college mid-semester, they are sometimes subject to 100% of the institution’s charges, but only receive a portion of their financial aid prorated by the number of days they attended class. This can leave a student owing the institution upwards of $10,000 for being on campus just a few weeks. This student may never be able to repay the institution, receive their transcripts to transfer and could face default on their student loan which is not forgivable even in bankruptcy.

You might say it’s the student’s decisions that put him in this situation. This may be true. But many times first generation students, in particular, don’t understand the repercussions of their actions until they are facing them.

But what about the student who does graduate? As highlighted by Ivory Tower, average student loan debt is approaching $30,000. This $30,000 often impedes with the ability to buy a car, a home or even start a family.

With this daunting problem brought to light, Ivory Tower looks into alternative models for funding and delivering education. Examples included New York’s Cooper Union’s endowment funded college providing students 100% scholarships. Founder Peter Cooper’s mission statement for the college stated the college should be open with “free education to all.” Financial hardship due to failed hedge fund investments forced the college’s board to reconsider the founder’s mission when they charged tuition for the first time in 2014. Instead of attending college for free, students faced a $20,000 price tag.

Even more drastic is the San Francisco based Theil Fellowship program which provides $100,000 scholarships if students drop out of college to start their own business by “hacking” their education. By hacking one’s education, these entrepreneurs look to follow in the footsteps of drop-outs such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. This Theil Fellowship model questions the need for formalized higher education. The documentary warns, though, that these successful college drop-out entrepreneurs are possibly the exception, not the rule.

The technology of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) present another option. Coursework becomes openly available to anyone with an internet connection, yet the solution is imperfect. MOOCs struggle to provide feedback and support to students. Community colleges were applauded for their usage of MOOC content with an in-classroom faculty member to facilitate content understanding.

Though Ivory Tower didn’t provide concrete answers for solving the issue of the student loan crisis, it did throw the doors of this discussion wide open. We as a society must either find a way to better fund education, use technology to improve the platforms for delivering education to lower cost or completely rethink the value of higher education.

I still believe in higher education… do you?

Watch the documentary and join the discussion.

Rossi, A. (2014) Ivory Tower. United States of America: Participant Media, Paramount Pictures & Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Amanda Randolph Scott, M.A.Ed.
Senior Strategic Enrollment Consultant

A Net Price Calculator Fit For A Princess

“Officials at many colleges have come to see the net-price calculator as something that could make a big difference in their admissions outcomes, rather than a routine matter of compliance.” (Beckie Supiano, The Chronicle of Higher Education)

There’s no doubt that newly mandated college calculators are a valuable resource to students searching for the school with the “glass slipper fit”. A new idea, however, suggests that these nifty number-pluggers are more than just a calculation tool but an extension of the school’s brand itself.

Why, then, would it be valuable for schools to invest in a generic calculator—one kin to calculators featured on competitors’ websites?

Federal-issued calculators are bone dry on the customization level. Clients who choose to invest in calculators developed by mainstream companies—such as College Board—will just have the “custom features” of their website’s design plugged into an even bigger calculator (one yielding the same ‘answer’ for all of its clients in terms of web design).

When it comes to customization (i.e. incorporating custom financial information and branding into a completely unique net price calculator), federal and highly commercialized calculators are the evil stepsisters chasing that glass slipper.

To experience the functionality and customization that The Whelan Group’s Net Price Calculators offers, read more and then schedule a demo.

Clients looking to develop a calculator through TWG can do so at a discounted price before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st.

For questions or details, contact us.

Reach More Prospects’ Families

With college costs rising during an unstable economic recovery, many Americans are reconsidering the value of higher education – or, lack thereof.

In a recent survey, 63.5% of people agreed “a college education is still a good financial investment for young adults given rising costs.” While this statistic is promising for the majority of high school students (and the colleges seeking them), 36.5% of families remain unconvinced.

In general, “graduates [are] likely to earn $1 million more in their lifetime than non-grads,” claims Keith Brannan, Vice President of Financial Security Planning for COUNTRY Financial. With countless benefits and undeniable career preparation, why doesn’t everyone have higher education at the top of their priority lists?

Many adults find college funding competing against retirement funding, with 52.5% of families prioritizing retirement over their child’s education. However, if monetary setbacks are the only constraint, then schools have no excuse for dwindling applicant numbers.

If universities develop convincing marketing campaigns, pushing financial aid and scholarship information, they will undoubtedly catch the attention of skeptics. With college cost serving as one of the biggest deal-breakers to potential students (if not, the biggest), it is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed, not ignored.

Through unique solutions, such as customized cost calculators and other financial aid marketing, schools can expect a much clearer communication path to those 36.5% of unconvinced families.

For more information about creative higher education marketing, and Net Price Calculators, please contact us.

Source: Emmeline Zhao, The Wall Street Journal

Higher Ed Bullying Students

Like a fight on the playground, low-income students are being bullied by the higher ed institutions they long to fit in with – and no one is doing anything to stop it.

After talking personally with these students, Gary Berg has gleaned both qualitative and quantitative proof that demonstrates “how students from poor families are shortchanged at every stage of their postsecondary education, from admissions practices that discriminate against them, to the numerous obstacles they face getting through college, to the lesser benefits they reap after graduation.”

Aside from the cost of college and lack of financial resources these universities supply, the needs of admitted, low-income students are still being ignored inside the walls of the classroom.

Problems such as reading and writing at a collegiate level, along with a different “frame of reference and context for [learning] various subjects that are common knowledge to more affluent students”, prove to be challenging barriers prohibiting a fair learning environment.

Berg suggests two things colleges can do to better the enrollment for, and retention of, low-income students:

  1. Change the format of education to accommodate working students:
    “[Appreciate] the particular challenges economically disadvantaged students face… Although colleges have adapted somewhat to students who work, they are still often extremely resistant to meeting the demands of this group.”
  2. Pay attention to the practical and emotional barriers to college attendance low-income students face:
    “First-generation college students often also confront a greater adjustment problem in college.”

With higher education ignoring “students who… stand to gain the most from it”, schools are only hurting their reputation and falling short of their promise as an institution of secondary education (“to improve the country’s record on degree attainment”).

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to see that there are simple solutions to solve these problems. Without intervening, however, these issues risk being ignored entirely – or stuffed into a trashcan, or shoved into a locker, or… Well, you get the idea.

Read more about Berg’s higher ed recommendations.