Affordable higher education in Northwest Indiana
It’s an election year, and lots of politicians are making promises. This cycle, we hear about “free” college for everyone. While it remains to be seen whether our state and our nation has the will or the resources to fulfill such an ambitious promise, this positive reception of this promise underscores an important issue facing students and parents in Indiana and across our nation—the affordability of a college education.
Each year, high school graduates, their families, and an increasing number of non-traditional students face the difficult choice whether to pursue an education beyond high school. This decision is especially challenging for students and families anxious at the thought of carrying financial debt. Students and families take into consideration their stagnant incomes, limited savings, and rising tuition costs balanced against the continually changing and increasingly globalized economy, rapidly changing industry demands, domestic job security, and the significant earnings gap between those who hold a high school diploma and the significantly higher wages earned by those with the college degree. The return on investment for higher education is proven, yet students and families remain risk averse in making that investment given the post-recession struggles that continue for some and the economic uncertainty of our times.
Here in Northwest Indiana, these questions and concerns are no different, as local community members struggle to balance the up-front cost of higher education and the unguaranteed, albeit historically positive, outcome for most graduates, both financially and vocationally. But while the published tuition rates on a national scale are alarmingly high — the highest in history — the great news for residents of Northwest Indiana is that the actual costs for private and public higher education is not only highly accessible and remarkably affordable, but it also yields an extremely high return on investment.
From associate degree-granting institutions like Ivy Tech Community College to bachelor-, master-, and doctoral-granting institutions like Valparaiso University, Indiana University, and Purdue University, Northwest Indiana offers a range of programs for those seeking a post-secondary degree, a career change, or career advancement, with ample financial assistance to help one discover her or his passion.
At Valparaiso University for example, 93 percent of undergraduate students receive more than $100 million in financial assistance annually, with committed alumni and friends who financially support students of promise and dedicated staff who work with students to secure institutional scholarships as well as apply for outside scholarships, grants, and loans. That makes the cost of a Valpo education competitive with public institutions, with extraordinary outcomes in graduation and employment rates. The additional benefits of living and studying on a faith-based college campus with students from across the nation and around the world offers an unparalleled, and yet affordable educational experience in our region. Various other regional institutions offer financial aid and support to help make higher education financially attainable, often in convenient ways that allow students to maintain employment and advance their educational goals.
Although financial aid does not often cover the entire cost of higher education, it plays a significant role in reducing post-degree debt and student-loan default. Valpo graduates, for example, find jobs after graduation that enable 97 percent of them to pay for their student loans without complications.
A High Return on Investment
While affordability merits significant concern for students and families, the return on investment should play just as — if not more — important of a role when considering higher education According to a recent report conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor statistics by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, Americans with four-year college degrees earned 98 percent more on average in 2013 than those without a degree. This number compares to 89 percent five years prior and 64 percent in the early 1980s. The earnings gap between high school and college graduates is big and keeps growing.
Northwest Indiana natives are in an extraordinary position to benefit from this kind of return on investment. With our region changing rapidly as well as its close proximity and easy access to Chicago, there are more opportunities than ever before to secure high-paying jobs in enriching and exciting sectors, with local and regional institutions that provide market-demand degree programs that prepare graduates for these types of positions. From top-ranked business and engineering programs to market-demand health, trade, and other professional degree programs, natives of the region don’t need to look any further than their own backyard to benefit from the wide array of offerings and that high return on investment.
As tuition rates at higher education institutions across the country continue to increase and changes in the economy engender uncertainty for individuals and families alike, it is no wonder that college affordability remains of utmost concern to the average American. But given the current climate, the need for more talented and value-driven leaders in innovative fields, the amount of financial assistance available, and the statistical evidence that higher education is worth the investment, individuals living in Northwest Indiana — now more than ever — should consider pursuing higher education. Anyone who tells you otherwise needs to check the facts—the lifetime of benefits far outweigh the costs.