Beat the High Cost of College

Everywhere you look you hear about the high cost of college. You see it in this newspaper, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Houston Chronicle. Costs are going up at a rate that exceeds inflation here and everywhere. The causes and effects of these increases are being deliberated in many venues. I am going to tell you how to shave a cool 33% off the cost of a bachelor’s degree. Thirty Three percent is nothing to sneeze at. If the local car dealers were doing that the lines would stretch half way to St. Louis. It is real money.

The cost of a bachelor’s degree at SIUC is roughly $30,000. A significant investment, but less than most SUV’s and certainly the bachelors’ degree represents an appreciating investment unlike any vehicle. Unless you are a stock wizard or the holder of significant intellectual property, it is the best investment you will ever make. Lifetime earnings of people with bachelor’s degrees are over $1,000,000 more than those with a high school diploma… that’s from the US Department of Labor.

Miracle on 34th Street

If I told you there was a simple way to shave $10,000 off the $30,000 and simultaneously make the convenience of achieving the degree higher you would jump at it, if the quality of the end result was nearly the same. $20,000 for a bachelor’s degree is a great deal. You know it too because I know you and you are smart. Gimbel’s has a better deal than Macy’s, and I’ll be Santa Claus. Here it is. Go to one of the excellent community colleges in Southern Illinois, John A, Logan, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern, in alphabetical order, complete an associate’s degree and, with good guidance and careful planning, transfer every course to Southern and graduate on time for a total cost of the bachelor’s degree of $20,000. A $10,000 savings over the student who completes all four years at SIUC. That is real money. A 33% savings. The numbers may be imperfect, but the orders of magnitude are spot on.

Some people at SIUC will be arrogant and tell you faculty are not as good, the courses not as rigorous; the environment not as intellectual. In some cases, they may be right. In other cases they will be wrong. College courses are taught and taken one at a time. Individual faculty members and their teaching prowess and quality vary widely. The best professors at any of the community colleges will not be all that much different than the best professors at Southern. Professors create an environment of excellence at universities, not programs. They will challenge and encourage, demand and care, guide and direct, motivate and befriend. I know. Institutional arrogance will not concede it though. Anyone with a lick of sense who has taken courses at these various institutions knows this too.

Keep your eyes wide open. The missions of a community college and a university are different. Don’t go looking for an electron microscope, a world renowned poet or artist, a top100 research library, a leading psychologist, a big time, nationally ranked, basketball or softball program, or on-campus housing at the community college. But if a cost effective education is what you are after and you come to Southern first, even with the highly competitive tuition and fees here, you are making a mistake. If you are looking for a charged research environment with graduate and professional educational excellence and head over to John A. Logan, you also are making a mistake. Know the institutions for what they are. Know that basic coursework can be well structured, challenging and intelligently delivered in many settings, and different people have different needs and aspirations.

Remember the line of the woman in Miracle on 34th street who says that the recommendation to go to Gimbel’s rather than Macy’s, “…has made a Macy’s costumer out of me.”

The university needs institutional self confidence to take this brave position in this environment. Santa Claus gave it to Macy’s. The university needs to do what is best for the individual learner and their family. If the university did that, in the end, it would lead the parade just like Santa Claus. And a positive partnership could help meet the educational needs and aspirations of the people of Southern Illinois as cohorts, not competitors.

Mission based excellence, widely perceived and recognized, is the best marketing in the world.

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