More debt for students not the answer to college costs

There’s a lot of talk right now about federal student financial aid funding, ranging from the House of Representatives subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training all the way down to Northern Kentucky University’s Student Government Association.

Recently, SGA President Dustin Robinson beseeched students to sign a petition sponsored by the Student Aid Alliance that calls for protection the of funding for federal grants and loans.

The most recent conversation on the Hill looked at ways colleges and universities can help their students save money by cutting the cost of higher education.
According to Jane V. Wellman from the Delta Project, a nonprofit policy research organization that focuses on higher education finance, public colleges and universities have been facing state budget cuts and reacted by raising student tuition and freezing faculty salaries while cutting various other administrative, staff and faculty positions across the university. Wellman testified in a Nov. 30 House subcommittee hearing.

NKU is one of those universities that has faced state budget cuts, and, according to various administrators, has cut from its operating expenses and frozen some salaries as it has increased student tuition.

NKU President James Votruba said in spring convocation that the university has lost $6 million in state appropriations since 2008.
To combat that, he said the university has reduced the number of employees in administration and lowered operating costs.
But even as universities are struggling to stay solvent in the face of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, the federal government is facing the same problem.

There isn’t enough money to go around, and someone has to decide where to make cuts. Federal student financial aid is one place some legislators are looking.
While federal student aid is vital to ensuring more students have access to higher education, the answer to this problem lies not with pushing more money into the system, but with changing how tuition prices are set.

Wellman testified that if colleges and universities found ways to make tuition more affordable, more students would be able to enroll in college and retention and graduation rates would increase as well.

Plus, the cost per student would decline, saving the university even more money, absolving the need for more federal financial aid, and relieving the burden on an already-strained federal budget.

While NKU has taken many measures to cut the university budget in several areas, the university can still do more to helps save students money.
For example, some colleges are beginning to offer three-year bachelor’s degrees that offer tuition discounts for enrolling in the program. Others offer tiered discounts that grow with each year the student is enrolled.

Some may think these seem like simple-minded solutions that have no grounding. However, all business systems are a matter of trial-and-error. The education system is no different. NKU is always talking about community involvement and striving for a higher quality for all. If this truly is going to be the mantra, making an education more accessible needs to be at the top of the priority list.