During the recent State of the Union address, many in the education field likely cheered when hearing President Obama harp again on the importance of keeping the costs of higher education low and recruiting more talent to become educators.
In a time when we see many higher education institutions raising prices exponentially, the American College of Education is dedicated to the belief that educators should have the opportunity to receive advanced degrees affordably, without having to incur substantial debt. Other than being online, one of the main reasons they’re able to cost 60 percent less than their competitors is because they don’t accept Title IV aid. They can’t regulate how much a student can take out with Title IV and find many students get themselves into debt by taking out loans for more than they need.
I had a chance to interview Dr. Shawntel Landry, Provost and Interim President of the American College of Education, to learn more.
I think there are several factors, perhaps the most obvious is the growing number of people who attend a 4-year college or university. More people are going to college than ever before, and as the student body grows, schools have to add more dorms, more classrooms, and more staff to support the increase. What’s more, schools still have old/original structures they need to pay to maintain or update. You can argue it’s all positive growth, but that growth is costly.
Extras like sports teams and other frivolities (rock climbing walls, high-end gymnasiums) do add to the expense, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing if that’s something a student decides they’re willing to pay extra for. Frankly, I want my own children to have that experience, but that’s not to say that all parents, or even all students, want the same thing.
You can add all sorts of other reasons in here, too: an increased emphasis on research, the textbook industry, administrative bloat. As a higher education professional and college president, I think one of the biggest perpetrators of increased costs in the industry is that we’ve forgotten that higher education is first and foremost about educating students. When we focus on student outcomes and student satisfaction, we start to make better decisions.
How can families keep costs in check when looking at higher education options?
I think deciding up front whether or not the traditional college experience–an active campus, dorms, sporting events, etc., is important to the student is a huge help. That guides both the student and the family to understand early on that the cost will be higher. That should help drive the conversation about how the family is going to pay for it. Or, if the family is going to pay for it; it may be that a student who wants this traditional experience is going to have to pay the cost difference.
Families can also consider if having that traditional experience can be delayed a few years by taking community college classes for pre- American College of Education Dr. Shawntel Landry, Provost and Interim President requisites, or taking them early in the last year of high school to reduce the time spent at a traditional four-year school.
I have three children: one in high school, middle school, and elementary. With both the middle and high schooler, we are talking about dual credit courses, Advanced Placement courses, online courses, and what they can do now to prepare them to enter a chosen field, have experiences in said chosen field, and to bring the costs down. My biggest concern is the cost. We want to help them as much as possible, but we also want them to have some skin in the game. They need to be invested in what they are doing, but not take on so much debt that it prevents them from starting off their lives on their own.
What has the American College of Education done to keep costs low?
One of the biggest things we do at ACE to keep costs reasonable is leverage technology. We’re entirely online, so everything we do is digital. There aren’t any classrooms, gyms or sports teams at ACE, so we eliminate huge expenses there. We use digital resources to cut down on textbook fees, we also use video lectures to eliminate the cost of commuting. We take advantage of what technology is able to do for us and use it to the benefit of our students.
We have also chosen to opt out of Title IV federal financial aid programs, which may seem curious to those familiar with this popular financial aid option. However, what most don’t know is the cost of managing a program like that is huge for colleges, and students don’t realize that they partially subsidize it with their tuition expenses. Our students absorb the cost-savings we receive by doing things this way, which means they pay much less (up to one-third the cost of total tuition) for comparable or better quality programs than our competitors.