Written by John Conkright, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Randolph-Macon College
At first glance the sticker price of a private college education can seem daunting. Tuition costs in the $25,000 range tend to intimidate even middle and upper-income families, especially in a state like Virginia where public college costs average about half that amount. In my role as dean of admissions and financial aid at Randolph-Macon College, I observe with sadness each year the number of students who are a perfect fit for a small private college, but who turn their attention elsewhere, because they assume that a private college education is beyond their financial reach. In simplest terms, they eliminate private college options at the beginning of the college search process, foreclosing in advance what could have been the perfect match for them.
Yet this perception of private college tuitions being out of reach is just that, a perception and not a reality. I spend the majority of my time these days spreading the "real story" regarding Virginia private college tuitions: that Virginia private colleges are committed to equal access and affordability; that they will work with families on a one-to-one basis to make it possible for students who value this type of education to attend; that most students, because of scholarships, grants, loans, work, and other financial aid options, pay considerably less than the "sticker prices"; that Virginia private colleges are investing increasing amounts of their own resources into the financial aid mix; and that the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) provides Virginia residents with an immediate $2,200 discount off the sticker price, without considering other aid for which families may qualify.Perhaps most important, statistics confirm that the net cost of a private college education for students who graduate in four years and then begin to earn a salary is actually less than the price of a public institution for students who take five years or more to graduate. Nationally, close to 80 percent of private-college graduates earn their degrees in four years or less, avoiding additional tuition and launching their careers earlier. In contrast, only 49 percent of public college graduates complete their programs in four years, resulting in additional tuition costs and delayed job income. Moreover, since many private college students have AP credits, International Baccalaureate credits, and dual enrollment credits from high school, the possibility of graduating in less than four years (with the attendant cost savings) is very high. Having to extend one's education into a fifth year at a public university not only means paying an extra year of tuition, but also losing $30,000 or more income from a job. This is real money, and when one considers this as an educational cost, a four-year private college education will actually cost less than a five-year public one.Since I know Randolph-Macon College best, let me convert the above observations into numbers, recognizing that other private Virginia colleges can quote comparable figures to demonstrate their commitment to affordability:
Whether through academic scholarships, need-based grants, low-interest loans, campus employment, TAG grants, tuition payment plans, or on-time graduation, Virginia's private colleges make themselves affordable to families of all income levels.Choosing a college means finding your own niche, that place that suits you best and that meets your academic, social, and personal needs. While college tuition costs might be a factor at the end of the selection process, don't let sticker price prevent you from applying to certain colleges that may suit you perfectly. With the plethora of financial aid and scholarship options available, Virginia private colleges are surprisingly affordable. The Commonwealth is blessed with more than 25 high-quality private colleges and universities that deserve serious consideration by those who value what we have to offer: small classes, close student-faculty relationships, myriad leadership opportunities, access to state-of-the-art equipment and undergraduate research opportunities, excellent preparation for graduate school and future careers, and numerous other benefits.Virginia's private colleges cost thousands less than schools of comparable quality in other parts of the country, especially in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Our commitment to affordability and equal access is evident to all who look beyond the sticker price. In fact, quality and affordability are a combination that makes Virginia's private colleges nationally recognized as Best Buys.
(Copy of Op-Ed Article printed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Saturday, October 25, 2003)