Published: Sunday, January 11, 2009,
Richmond Times-Dispatch Commentary
Column by Robert R. Lindgren,
President of Randolph-Macon College
In today's uncertain economy, families are struggling. They are concerned about
their jobs and their mortgages. Retirement funds are slipping, and home equity loans
are less available. Struggling parents now have the added stress of wondering how
they'll be able to afford a college education for their children -- and in particular,
a private liberal arts education.
Before making any college decisions, I would encourage parents and students to talk
to the private colleges you may be considering and learn more about the distinct
advantages and opportunities available at our institutions. Please do not cross
a private college off your list because of the economy or the published tuition
price. The overwhelming majority of our students have secured enough financial aid
to make a private college education affordable, even in today's economy.
Make no mistake, private colleges and universities throughout the country are also
facing financial challenges. Like all families, private colleges face tightening
budgets. However, institutions such as Randolph-Macon College are doing everything
possible -- and digging deep to protect financial aid and ensure that a quality
private-college education remains affordable and accessible.
According to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU),
a very large percentage of full-time students at private colleges and universities
receive some form of financial aid. For example, Randolph-Macon awarded $28.8 million
in financial aid to our students in 2008! Additionally, Virginia residents attending
a Virginia private college receive an annual $3,200 Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG)
from the Commonwealth.
After weighing the total financial aid packages offered, many parents and prospective
students have determined that private colleges are indeed as affordable as a public
I would also like to dispel the myth that private colleges are filled with wealthy
students. The reality is that private colleges are filled with students from across
the financial spectrum. Colleges such as Randolph-Macon attract students from all
ethnic, geographic, and economic backgrounds.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics
reports that students attending private colleges have a lower average family income
than students enrolled at public institutions. In addition, private colleges on
average enroll a larger percentage of Pell Grant recipients and minority students
than public colleges and universities.
A study by NAICU also shows that nationally, 79 percent of all graduates from private
institutions earn their bachelor's degrees in four years or fewer compared with
49 percent of those from similar public institutions. Therefore, private college
graduates are able to finish paying tuition and start earning a salary sooner!
Of course, the hallmark of a private college education is the personal attention
we offer students -- from the time they apply and throughout their academic career.
Our classes are small, and our students benefit from one-on-one interaction with
full professors (not graduate students), the opportunity to gain valuable "real
world" experience through meaningful internships, and the ability to experience
other cultures through exciting study abroad programs.
Another key advantage of our size is that we work individually with families during
difficult economic times. Our admissions and financial aid staffs are dedicated
to helping families based on their individual areas of need.
Unlike the vulnerability of the stock market, investing in a private-college education
reaps a lifetime of returns. Why? Not only do we prepare students to be successful
in the workplace and graduate school, but we also believe in the long-term value
of a "well-rounded" liberal-arts education.
In today's competitive marketplace, the ability to think critically, analytically,
and creatively and to communicate well are the most valuable attributes sought by
employers in all professions. Liberal arts colleges such as Randolph-Macon focus
on the development of these essential skills as our primary mission, and our graduates
become leaders in their fields over time as a result.
Jobs that are here today might well be obsolete tomorrow. Our students are well-equipped,
not just for their first job after graduation, but to be successful in a lifetime
of changing and rewarding careers.
Private-college educations are still affordable and more valuable than ever. On
Saturday, Jan. 24, starting at 10 a.m., Randolph-Macon and 24 other Virginia private
colleges will hold a special, one-day session on their campuses to help families
learn how this education remains within reach financially.
Finally, an investment today in a liberal arts education for your children is one
that will pay a lifetime of dividends for them and for our society.
Robert R. Lindgren is president of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland. Contact him
For more information on the Jan. 24 session, visit the Council of Independent College's
Web site: http://www.cicv.org/Affordability.aspx