Affording college tuition not an impossible dreamI must...


September 26, 1998

Affording college tuition not an impossible dream

I must take issue with the substance and the implications of Denis Horgan's column on college tuition ("Anxiety about college costs rising," Sept. 2).

Families already have an inaccurate view of the affordability and accessibility of college, and are not aware of the options available to them in choosing and paying for an appropriate college.

Unfocused and inaccurate diatribes like Mr. Horgan's column only increase the number of students who will walk away from a college education because they are convinced it is out of their reach.

Mr. Horgan has off-handedly dismissed 1,600 independent colleges and universities that are as diverse in their culture, their mission and their finances as the 2.9 million students they serve.

Yes, it is true that less than 5 percent of all private colleges and universities -- have a "sticker price" of more than $20,000. However, more than half the students at the institutions receive need-based aid that averages about $12,000 per student, much of it from the institution's own resources.

At the other end of the spectrum, a handful of private colleges charge no tuition at all. These "work colleges" underwrite education costs through endowments and gifts, while the students pay for their education by providing services to the institution and the community.

Between these two extremes lies a wide range of private education options to meet particular students' needs and interests: small liberal arts colleges, major research universities, church- and faith-related colleges, historically black institutions, women's colleges, schools dedicated to the performing and visual arts and others.

The levels of tuition at these institutions are just as diverse. Last year, twice as many private institutions had tuition and fees below $9,000 as had tuition and fees above $18,000.

For most students, even those prices are substantially reduced through financial aid.

Mr. Horgan also faults colleges for having a cavalier attitude toward the price they charge.

He is simply wrong.

In recent years, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities has surveyed its 900 member institutions to determine the amount of tuition increases and to find out what is being done to control or reduce costs.

This year, a number of schools are holding tuition increases to no more than the rate of inflation, others are reducing tuition and many more are showing their lowest increases in a decade.

The cost-saving measures include cooperative ventures with other colleges, reducing the number of administrative positions, privatizing some college services and consolidating other services.

College leaders are genuinely concerned about cost as it affects their institutions' fiscal welfare and out of a desire to make their colleges as accessible and affordable as possible.

More than ever, colleges are opening up their budgeting process to scrutiny by and input from students and others with a vested interest in the colleges' financial decisions. And colleges are talking openly and candidly about tuition levels, the way tuition is set, and the resources that are available to families in paying for a college education.

For example, in 1997, Duke University opened its doors, its ledgers and its meetings to a senior editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education for an in-depth analysis of the factors affecting tuition.

Another example is the recent issue of Johns Hopkins University's alumni magazine, which devotes 16 pages to a candid discussion of cost, tuition and financial aid.

None of these issues are as simple as Mr. Horgan would suggest because colleges are only partly businesses.

They also are repositories of knowledge, sites of exploration, catalysts for personal growth, arenas of athletic prowess, venues for artistic endeavors and centers of human understanding.

A college education is an investment in the most valuable commodity anyone possesses: oneself.

David L. Warren


The writer is president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Affirmative action improves the quality of medical service

U.S. medical schools accept and graduate only highly qualified, well-trained men and women. The rigorous evaluation of candidates for medical school admission takes into account a wide variety of criteria from grades and test scores, to community service, to geography, and thanks to affirmative action, to race and ethnicity as well.

This evaluation process is far more complex, thorough and effective than Robert Farmer would lead you to believe from his simplistic statement in the story "White student sues Md. medical school over admission policy" (Aug. 26).

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