Cost of a College Education

As the Fall 2013 semester fast approaches, Illinois students and their parents are expressing concerns about the cost of a college education. Yet, news reports on the costs of higher education are often filled with erroneous data and exaggerated figures that conflate the costs of living with the costs of education.

Despite much of the media hype about the high cost of higher education, many public universities continue to offer affordable undergraduate education. My own university, Northern Illinois University (NIU), offers in-state undergraduate tuition and fees at the very reasonable rate of approximately $11,500 per year for 2013-2014. This rate is based on a full courseload of 12 hours per semester. To gauge tuition costs at NIU, see the tuition estimator at NIU’s website.

Many students and their parents have been confused by reports that Pell Grants no longer exist, based on politicians’ threats to cut the grants. The US Department of Education website still lists Pell Grants as functioning.  The amounts of the grants were cut last year, but my understanding is that the amount of the grants has varied over the years with changes in the economy and Congressional composition.

There have certainly been highly publicized fears about the costs of the Pell Grants program. Inside Higher Ed published a story about the situation as of early this year:

Just as important for many Illinois students are the Monetary Award Program (MAP) Grants given by the State of Illinois.  The most recent data reported in NIU Today indicates: “More than 6,100 NIU students received grants through the Monetary Award Program in the fall of 2011. Limited state funding and a high application volume reduced the 2011-2012 maximum award by 5 percent from $4,968 to $4,720.” This means that more than one third of NIU undergraduate students are receiving MAP Grants.

The Illinois Congress made further cutbacks to the program in the past two years, and threatened to suspend payments of existing MAP Grants.  Some university administrators believe that this ill-conceived move led to lower enrollments at NIU and other public universities in Illinois.

NIU also has approximately 500 veterans enrolled every year, using their GI Bill to fund their education.  So, this is another important group to consider in calculating the costs of higher education.

One of the most disturbing aspects of higher education funding is that for-profit universities are getting massive public funding through Pell Grants and the GI Bill. An New York Times article on the Harkin Report from 2012 indicates that “The amount of available federal student aid is large and growing. The Apollo Group, which operates the University of Phoenix, the largest for-profit college, got $1.2 billion in Pell grants in 2010-11, up from $24 million a decade earlier. Apollo got $210 million more in benefits under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. And yet two-thirds of Apollo’s associate-degree students leave before earning their degree.”

Undergraduate students often express worries about the status of their grants and the burdens of student loans.  Taking advantage of public university programs and in-state tuition rates can drastically cut the cost of higher education for many undergraduate students.

Current and future students and their parents should examine the costs of higher education carefully in weighing their options.

This entry was posted in Education Policy, Humanities Education, Undergraduate Work in History. Bookmark the permalink.

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