At Issue #2716 “The High Cost of Higher Education”

October 6, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


[intro music]>>H: Thank you as always for joining us on
“At Issue.” I am H. Wayne Wilson. Everybody knows that the cost of higher education rises
every year. The State of Illinois commits less and less to public institutions, and
we are going to discuss what the alternatives are. What might we do to make sure that higher
education is obtainable by most citizens. To have that conversation Troy Johnson is
here. Troy is the ISU Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management. So Illinois State
University is represented. Also representative of Eureka College, much smaller than Illinois
State, Daniel Blankenship is here. He is the College Provost and Dean. Thank you for being
here.>>Daniel: Thank you.
>>H: And Dave Pardieck is with Bradley University. He is the Director of Financial Assistance.
Dave and I have been around since the mid 70s. I’d like to say welcome to central Illinois
to Troy and central Illinois to Daniel because they are both here for very short period of
time. Welcome aboard.>>Daniel: Thank you.
>>H: The question that we want to talk about is enrollment. It is about financial assistance.
But before we go there, President Obama just recently threw a little bit of a curve ball
into the scenario, and that is — and we don’t know the details, but free education for students
pursuing associate’s degree at a community college. I don’t care who starts this discussion,
and I know that you don’t know a lot. How might this affect your ability to recruit
students?>>David: I will be glad to lead off with that
one. We are excited about the conversation, and as you suggested, it is preliminary. It
is a bit sketchy. But from our perspective, the opportunity to broaden the pool of community
college students who may eventually want to look at one of our institutions as a continuation
of education, we see that as all good. There is cost dimension to it, we will see how that
plays out. Generally speaking, at least positive from our perspective.
>>H: You share that particular viewpoint?>>Daniel: Yeah, I think there is a lot — it
presents somewhat of an opportunity for all of us as those students hopefully will go
to college at least. And I think among the benefits in the discussion has been that we
have been talking about the value of education, value of education for the public good, rather
than for the private good. And there are lots of opportunities to think about how we might
attract those students and prepare them for future jobs and careers.
>>H: Troy?>>Troy: Sure. Both points are very good. The
public good to higher education, whether it is wealthier community of wealthier individuals,
happier, healthier, this conversation that this provokes is so valuable because it really
reinforces the point that higher education is very important, not only to individuals,
but to our community, to our state, and to our nation. That’s what I am very grateful
for the conversation. There are very interesting aspects that will be unveiled shortly we hope
in the details and understand the proposal the better. The question of access and success,
access or success, or access to success, those questions are very important in a program
like this because all of our institutions are very focused on student success. Although
sometimes we are thought of primarily concerned about recruiting the next class or bringing
in certain profile of class. The truth is all of us are very engaged, and even at admission
process is much about having students be successful. And so as much as this dialogue is all from
not only access to individuals and new enrollments, but to success. And that those students succeed
after they enroll, it is very beneficial and important too.
>>H: Is it going to make it difficult to go after a perspective freshman student? I say
this, let me lay groundwork for the viewer because the numbers are that Illinois State
University is down 4% — no 5% since — these are numbers since 2010. You are down in enrollment
5%. Bradley University down 4%. And Eureka College down 12%. These are undergraduate
numbers. Do you fear it might make it more difficult for you to recruit freshmen?
>>David: Yeah. — Transfer students from community colleges are very important to my institution.
I think we would all agree very important to our institutions. But generally speaking
we really aren’t competing for students at the freshman level who are looking at a community
college to begin their career versus a Eureka or ISU or Bradley because quite frankly because
of the cost differential.>>H: That’s already been decided.
>>David: I mean it’s kind of baked into it. The average cost of community college is what,
around 32, 33 hundred, you are looking at something close to nine or ten. And much larger
numbers and so a student is going to decide that’s the direction — that’s where they
want to begin. So again the short answer is really not competing at the freshman level.
As they move through and look to transfer, again, we see a richer, broader pool.
>>H: So that might actually benefit Eureka College because you have had problems with
retention rates in your freshman class, and you have had problems with attracting students
who might be transfers from — so might this help?
>>Daniel: Yes, there is potential to. We have with our retention rate over the past several
years which we are working onto improve. Looks like 92% for fall-spring. But as the retention
rate has been an issue in the past, those students coming from community colleges are
going to be better prepared and more likely to be successful because they have already
had a year or two of college under their belts. So that could be an advantage for us. Our
ability to remediate all students that come to us, even though we are not open admission
is certainly challenging. But if the community colleges are able to do some of that work
for us, I think we all benefit from that.>>H: Let’s talk money. At Bradley, 85% of
the operating budget comes from tuition. That’s a large number, a large percentage. I don’t
know what it is at ISU. But certainly a good portion.
>>Troy: Absolutely.>>David: Right.
>>H: You are helped — well, maybe you are not helped by the state David: H: Now that
I think about it.>>Troy: Less and Less then we used to be.
Daniel:>>H: So at any rate, suffice it to say, tuition
is a very important dollar when it comes to the operating budget of each of your institutions.
Tuition is going up at unsustainable rate, my opinion. It is going up much faster than
inflation. How much longer can we tolerate these kinds of increases before the system
doesn’t work any more?>>Troy: Well, some good news is this year
many of the national studies indicate that across the country, tuition rate increases
are coming to a slow down. And we are hearing about some institutions actually freezing.
Of course, in Illinois, many institutions in Illinois, and Illinois State is one, has
tuition guarantee program so that the student starts at a rate, and is guaranteed that rate
through their career. So for an individual student, a family, they know what the cost
will be, and it won’t go up. But it is the increases for future classes, that you are
concerned about, and rightly so. And public universities, we have been investing more
in need based scholarships and need based aid. So in merit based scholarships to be
sure that the strong mix of students, the quality of students for our programs, matches
the rigor of the curriculum. To offset some of these tuition increases, we have been investing
in those kinds of ways.>>H: What — Go ahead.
>>Daniel: We decided several years ago, I think they call it Eureka idea to reduce the
tuition to the level which it was more affordable. I think we are one of the lowest, if not lowest
tuition rates in the area because of that. And so it is affordability is a big factor
in student selection of institutions right now. We identified that as a priority.
>>H: Tuition at Eureka looks like $19,210, and that does not include room and board.
>>Daniel: Does not include room and board.>>H: At Bradley $29,664.
>>David: Undiscounted.>>H: Undiscounted right. All discounted numbers.
And at ISU $10,260 for in state students, $23,630 if they’re out of state students.
Let’s continue with, you mentioned, Troy, the opportunities for students because that’s
undiscounted. I don’t know too many students who are paying full boat.
>>Troy: Right, well even at public universities, I think David you were talking about the fact
that many public universities are giving more scholarships or need based aid. And back to
the Obama proposal, for example, it is important that people viewing this show and listen to
these conversations understand that for needy students and families, a pell grant program
pays for tuition and fees for many students, at community colleges already. It is important
that message be there, that this proposal, significant additional infusion of financial
support to students, but that there also is substantial amount of support that we want
people to know about and know it is there. Universities also receive pell grant funds.
Those students do the map grant in Illinois is a strong program. It has had level funding,
actually decreased slightly, but level funding for many years now, and that’s a concern as
tuition rates go up. But the institutions, as Daniel said, affordability is absolutely
critical, and regular conversation on campuses.>>H: What percentage of students at Eureka
receiving some form of financial aid?>>Daniel: All of them are receiving some type
of financial aid, including institutional aid. 82% of them receive federal financial
aid, and about 42% of them are receiving state aid.
>>H: And then you have Eureka has scholarships.>>Daniel: Eureka college has scholarships
and institutional aid.>>H: Is that similar at Bradley?
>>David: Similar, and of course, student loan programs, both students and parents provide
certain financing vehicles.>>Troy: Right.
>>H: So do you still consider Bradley affordable for students?
>>David: Well, we do — part of our — certainly part of our mission, some degree part of our
brand has been accessibility. I mean Daniel is right, it is very important students are
looking at private sector, looking at the sticker price. We obviously spend a lot of
time, all of our institutions spend a lot of time, hoping families look at net price,
post discount because it is a very different number. It is a very different look. But back
to your question, you know we take cues from the market. We look at our peer institutions,
and that’s where we try to gauge our price point at about $30,000, we tend to be on the
low end of — on the tuition price. When you blend into that, then the discounting, yeah,
we are very competitive, very, very accessible.>>H: That’s finances from a student point
of view. Let’s talk about budget, operating budgets specifically you with 85% of the income
coming from tuition, and enrollment going down, Bradley faces — help me with numbers,
$7 million deficit.>>David: Uh-huh.
>>H: Is that the number?>>David: Uh-huh.
>>H: Where do you turn to do things like that? How do — you can’t — enrollment isn’t going
to jump that much next year, especially with the declining pool of Illinois seniors in
high school. Where do you look?>>David: Well — a couple different responses
to that. We are not surprised at the downturn in the Illinois marketplace. We have known
now for about 17 years how many kids were on that train. So we knew that this decline
was coming. We know we are going to continue to see decline in the number of 17, 18 year
olds moving forward certainly for the next decade or beyond. We have been doing it at
Bradley. A lot of planning, looking at our overhead, cost structure, ways we can become
more efficient. Certainly just taking a very broad look. And you know our president has
put together several task force that are looking again at our overhead. But at the same time
we are looking at new ways to generate revenue alternatives, if you will. We are going to
be announcing some graduate level programs that will be entirely online, ancillary health
care programs that will really broaden the reach of the Bradley brand from certainly
outside of our region to national and international market. So tremendous opportunities there.
>>h: At Eureka, what options do you have in terms of the budget?
>>Daniel: Well, first thing that comes to us, of course, is the opportunity to be more
efficient as most people recognize. And so the efficiency factors are always looked at
first. I think there are a number of other options that we are exploring relative to
programmatic sorts of things. Better serving our students, improving our retention rates,
of course, is significant because that affects enrollment. And then the idea that we want
to increase graduation rates and attract students to the experience that they are going to get
at Eureka College in a broad sense, including residential experience as well.
>>H: You mentioned the experience. I want to talk about that with all three of you.
But first the financial end for you at Illinois State.
>>Troy: Sure. At the turn of the decade, in 2003, about 35% of our operational budget
came from the state. Now it is about 18%. So we have watched the decline in the amount
of operational budgets supported by the state. And I have to give great credit to former
President Bowman and current President Deitz, and other leaders on campus that have been
very planful about things, been very smart with expenditures, and with the revenue. However
enrollment did rebound this fall with the largest freshman class in 25 years. And we
have a couple of years of small classes, it will be with us a number of years that puts
downward pressure on bottom line of the budget. We are looking forward to leveling out and
being able to maintain at that rate. We are also looking at cost savings kinds of ideas.
We are in exercise right now to prioritize, to be strategic, and be ready when the state
comes to us with its budget plan.>>H: The pay raises for staff and faculty
have not been significant. About 1.5% at Bradley, something — I didn’t find any numbers at
ISU, but something similar. Last two years at Eureka, 0% pay raise and increase in health
care premiums, actually decrease in pay. How difficult is it to maintain faculty and staff,
keep them there because you talked about selling the experience. Well, faculty is part of that
experience.>>Daniel: It is. There is a huge challenge
there to continually recruit faculty. Another problem that develops, since I work with faculty
a lot, there are situations that develop where salary compression appears because we have
to offer higher salaries to incoming faculty which mean longer term faculty have — don’t
experience the same rate increases. So, in effect, it is — continues to challenge all
of us in terms of recruiting faculty in an environment which is not only very competitive,
but also — there is not very much money.>>H: Similar issue with Bradley?
>>David: Yeah.>>H: And ISU?
>>Troy: Sure. In the state condition financially, I would add, is one that doesn’t often come
to the surface in these conversations, but when we are trying to attract national faculty,
recent doctoral graduates from the top programs in the world, the state’s financial condition
is part of a decision matrix for these people. And so the strong Illinois is very important
and opposite can also send out a message, might be more risky to make a move to Illinois
versus going to another state.>>H: Let’s talk about that experience, and
I am not even sure — maybe you can help define what an experience is. Dave, because you are
recruiting students this a different way than you did say, 10, 15 years ago.
>>David: Most certainly, H, we are. But, yet, I want to step back and Daniel started the
conversation, idea of the experience. I want to take it a little bit further and suggest
that we’re dealing with pretty generally speaking a sophisticated market to the extent that
students are not just seeking out the lowest cost provider, because if they were, in many
ways, we would be very, very different institutions. What they are really looking for is value
in the educational experience. And what makes our industry particularly challenging is that
there is a big difference between making the decision to buy this vehicle or that vehicle
or this refrigerator or that one because you have a very immediate relationship with that
product. In a very real sense, what our product is, is a promise. And we try to put some tangibles
on that. We talk about the return on the investment based on job placement rates. To some degree
life satisfaction, starting salaries and things like this. But more than anything, it is the
experience students is going to have at any particular institution. It is absolutely a
fact the experience at Eureka College is going be different from the experience at Bradley
which is going to be different than the experience at ISU. We all offer unique experiences. So
while finances are very important to the student and the institution, what really carries the
day is how well are we delivering on our value proposition to that individual student, being
true to the — if you will, the value promised, that we are delivering the market.
>>H: So what’s Eureka College sell to a perspective student?
>>Daniel: Well of course we sell the small College experience like many others, including
Bradley University talks about the small college experience, even though they are a bit larger.
We also talk to students about the residential life experience, the learning communities
that are a part of that experience as well as the programming that is available to freshman,
including are freshman programming and we have first generation programming and things
like that where they can participate in a broad scale of activities. We have sororities
and fraternities and things like that. So all of that kind of becomes the experience
that we offer to students.>>h: And a bit of history, too.
>>Daniel: And the history, of course, famous alum, and the past abolitionists past of the
college.>>H: 1855, founding of Eureka College. You
are much older than either of the other universities. What does Illinois State sell?
>>Troy: Sure, two years older. [looking at Daniel] [Laughing]
>>David: Not to put to fine of a point on it. [Laughing]
>>H: Well Bradley is the young one. [Laughing]>>1897. 1857 and 1855. So we got that straight!
>>Troy: Illinois State is so fortunate it has extremely high graduation rates. And when
this market that has become more savvy, parents and students and as price has gone up, it
has caused families and those people spending on higher education to be very much more careful.
They investigate more. They want increasingly to know that there is something after, whether
that be graduate school placement, a job sometimes. Sometimes the after is just the first year,
though. So that experience, the excitement, the fun. College is a very fun — it is a
phenomenal time of growth in an individual student’s life, and we all help these students
grow in tremendous ways. The fact that we have these very high graduation rates and
we are reasonably priced. We have a very high loan repayment rate. A third of our students
don’t have any loans when they graduate. Our default rate is among the lowest in the country,
and this surprises many people to learn this. When you put those together in a package,
Illinois State becomes very attractive option. Location, too, it is good. We have a wonderful
community that is invested in itself, and that’s a lot of fun for students and, parents
see a safe environment that’s attractive to them.
>>H: Kids can ride from Chicago on the train?>>Troy: Absolutely. ‘
>>H: I don’t know where the train is in Peoria. Figure out where the train left us behind!
[Laughing].>>Daniel: It doesn’t come to Eureka.
>>H: No? It used to.>>Daniel: I Know.
>>H: Back when it was called Walnut Grove, I think there was a train. So what is unique
about Bradley? What is the first thing you would tell a student?
>>David: We’re fortunate we are able to kind of position ourselves between the two extremes,
that we being someone in the neighborhood of 5 to 6,000 students, we are able to offer
some different kinds of maybe dimensions to the experience that smaller schools aren’t
in terms of breadth of majors and academic offerings, to some degree facilities, certainly
internship opportunities, tremendous job placement, strong alumni involvement. So really the best
of the smaller private colleges, we are able to offer that. And at the same time, many
of the benefits of the larger publics, in terms of the very robust campus, campus experience,
the division one athletics is not a small part of that. So we really — we like to think
that we can really appeal to that student who is looking for a little bit bigger campus,
a lot of the opportunities at large, but offer that small personal, that’s the hallmark of
the school.>>H: You mentioned athletics. How important
is athletics at all three schools. Let me preface that by saying — By the way congratulations.
>>Troy: Thank you very much.>>H: Second place in football —
>>Troy: Championship.>>H: Championship series. I can never get
that right.>>Troy: Right.
>>H: But your — no scholarships at Eureka. You, of course, have a full division one program.
Bradley doesn’t have the football, but –>>David: Basketball.
>>H: — and we know athletics generally speaking drain the budget. But how important is it
to have an athletic program?>>Daniel: We think it is very important. There
are students on campus because they want to participate in a college experience that includes
athletics. And there are, of course, we have a football program. There are students on
campus that have ambitions and aspirations and enjoy the game and are participating.
About half of our students — little more than half of the students are involved in
some athletic activity.>>H: At Bradley Dave? Is that important?
>>David: Very important. Very important. It is part of the student experience, but it
certainly gives us a connection to over a hundred years of history that doesn’t define
who Bradley is, but certainly athletics have been a part of the Bradley University experience
for a hundred plus years. Very, very, very important.
>>H: It’s going to be easy to recruit athletes, maybe tuition coming this for those that don’t
pay, that don’t get scholarship?>>Troy: Right. And then the successes are
even the exposure also generates interest in investment of donors, corporations in academic
programs to though. At the end of the day, our students are athletes, if you talk to
our coaches, you hear this replicated, our students are athletes, that have good grades,
good graduation rates, and it’s very important.>>H: With that, we have run out of time. Let
me say thank you to Troy Johnson, who is the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management,
and to Dave Pardieck who is Bradley University Director of Financial Assistance. Across the
table from them, Daniel Blankenship, who is the Eureka College Provost and Dean. Thank
you all three for the interesting conversation and the update on recruiting students and
finances in the university environment. Next week, we will be back with another edition
of “At Issue” with how money affects political campaigns. Join us then for that conversation. [closing music]