Price of education a growing problem

Tim Sampson and Tim Sampson

For many college students, the most daunting aspect of higher education can be paying for it, a task which becomes increasingly difficult to accomplish as tuition continues to rise year after year.

According to a recent article in USA Today, the average tuition at a public university in the U.S. rose 6.4 percent in the last year. BGSU is no exception to such increases. As a result the University has had to balance diminished state support with student’s needs by introducing a new financial aid program that allows students to avoid costly tuition hikes.

According to the Ohio Board of Regents’ annual Fall Survey of Student Charges, the total cost of in-state tuition at Bowling Green went up $406 this year, roughly a nine percent increase from last fall.

This puts BGSU’s rate of tuition increase above the national average. And over the course of the last decade, tuition at the University has increased so much that the current cost of in-state tuition, $4,530, is actually more expensive than out-of-state tuition was 10 years ago.

The University is sympathetic to how such increases affect students, said William Knight, assistant vice president for Planning and Accountability in the department of institutional research.

‘Were not just out to get every cent, it’s just that students don’t typically see the major cuts in the support from the state that the University receives,’ Knight said.

Indeed, a lack of state support has been a major contributing factor of tuition hikes.

According to Knight, about 30 years ago, roughly two-thirds of BGSU’s funding came from the state government. That amount has since dwindled to one-third.

Higher education is seen as a more discretionary expenditure by the state government, explains Knight, and so when Ohio’s economy went into a recession five years ago, funding for public universities was one of the state’s first programs to be cut back.

According to Norm Bedford, associate director of student financial aid, ‘We’re no longer a state supported institution, we’re basically a state assisted institution.’

The University is attempting to ease student’s financial burdens, however. According to Knight, the University expects to spend about 16 percent of this year’s budget, roughly $50 million, on financial aid alone.

‘We have not only tried to increase the amount of its own money that the university spends to offset the increases in tuition,’ Knight said. ‘We have in fact tried to get ahead of it.’

It’s important for the University to provide ample financial aid because students are more likely to seek a college degree when they don’t have to worry about taking out loans to help finance their education, said Conrad McRoberts, a senior research associate at the department of institutional research.

‘Students are graduating with unbelievable amounts of debt these days,’ McRoberts said. ‘And if you’re in a family were financial resources are extremely limited, taking on all that debt is a scary proposition.’

A new financial aid program in particular hopes to deal directly with the problem of rising tuition.

The Tuition Certainty Program, will start next fall for this year’s entering freshmen class. It’s a grant program funded by the University that will award students, who meet specific academic and financial need qualifications, with an amount of money equal to the increase in tuition from their freshman year.

In other words, the students would be locked into paying the same tuition rate from their freshman year and would be immune to any increases over the next three years.

McRoberts touted the program as being a way to provide peace of mind for students and parents.

‘A student can get a better feel when they start school of how much they’ll be paying for tuition, year, after year, after year,’ he said.

Though the program does not begin until next fall, it has already been greeted with positive response according to Bedford.

‘When we announced it at orientation it seemed to be a big hit with the parents and you could sort of see them breathe a sigh of relief,’ Bedford said.

When the program starts it will only be open to students determined to be of ‘high financial need,’ but the University hopes to expand the program if it is successful.

‘This is something we’ll watch and see how it does,’ McRoberts said, ‘and it is certainly our hope that we’ll be able to expand this program in the future.’