Presidents Perspectives - Economy
Thoughts from Carol Mooney about the economy and its effect on higher education
News reports are filled with stories about the economy. It is the main topic of conversation at every sort of meeting and gathering. Many of these reports and articles address higher education and its response to the current state of affairs. Will families be able to afford to send their children to the college or university of their choice, or will education be one of those areas where families feel the need to cut back?
It is the natural reaction in uncertain times to tighten our belts. People are driving less, shopping less, and doing more with less—all wise reactions to an uncertain economic future.
Yet, even in difficult times, for some things quality is worth the sacrifice. Some decisions are too important to be left in the hands of the lowest bidder. At Saint Mary’s we prepare our graduates for life, not just that first job. A liberal arts education allows our graduates to be flexible and change with the times. Employers want to hire individuals who think critically, speak articulately, and write clearly. I believe that an investment in education pays real dividends—dividends that last a lifetime. I know that my education has paid life-long dividends that are economic as well as personal.
As the president of Saint Mary’s College, I wonder whether some parents are tempted to encourage their daughters to attend a “less expensive” school in these uncertain times. What they may find is that determining which school is the least expensive is not as straightforward as it first appears. The “sticker price” of a college education today varies greatly and the actual price paid by individual students varies even more widely. When students and their parents compare college tuitions, they may not realize that private institutions devote a large percentage of their budgets to financial aid. Many private institutions, like Saint Mary’s, offer scholarships, need-based aid, loans, work study, and other solutions. Nearly one-fourth of our operating budget is devoted to making a Saint Mary’s education affordable for our families. Over 90 percent of our families receive some form of financial aid. The end result is that, for some students, the cost of attending a private college or university is actually lower than that of attending a public university. In addition, the benefits of personal attention and close faculty/student working relationships that are possible at a small school last a lifetime.
I encourage families to investigate all the possibilities that exist within the financial aid system at the various schools that they believe will best serve their children. One should consider all options before settling for something that may not be the best choice in the long run. An investment in education may be the only investment these days that comes with a guarantee.