Reports of the increasing burden of student debt are crippling graduates throughout their youth, making it more common and leading many to question the affordable cost of enrolling in college.
Even after estimating inflation, a recent figure I read indicates that the cost of attending college (on average) has almost doubled in the last 30 years. Information like this prompts many to rethink whether college means anything to themselves and their families.
The cost of attending colleges and universities varies greatly. Seeing the high costs and hearing the discouraging comments about the college’s unaffordable tendencies make potential students question: Is college still a good return on investment of time and money? Is the quality of a degree related to the cost of attendance?
The idea of joining college has always led to student loan debt, which is a myth, and not the only one. Here are some common misconceptions about the cost of attending college.
Myth: Graduates leave college with large student loans due to the high cost of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.
Fact: The cost of a college education varies greatly and Dalton State College is one of the most affordable four-year colleges in the country. Although most of our students work at least part-time, about two-thirds of our graduates complete their degree without student loans.
Myth: The quality of a bachelor’s degree is directly proportional to the cost of attending a college or university.
Fact: Dalton State is ranked among the top colleges in the US for business insider returns. We value academic rigor and job preparation. If money is not an asset, it may mean joining an expensive college / university. But for most families, accumulating significant debt to enroll in a reputed college / university may not be a good return on investment, especially at the undergraduate level.
The future income potential of graduates in allied occupations should be considered when considering attendance costs. How many years does it take for a graduate to repay student loans, and how practical is the repayment plan provided for salaries and job opportunities?
Myth: Larger universities offer higher quality academic programs than smaller two- or four-year colleges.
Fact: Universities, by definition, offer undergraduate and graduate degrees. Programs in smaller public colleges are usually less expensive. I believe that smaller colleges like Dalton State will focus on graduate education and provide better opportunities for graduate students.
Due to our small class size and emphasis on teaching, Dalton State students have more access to faculty and staff. Our students are more likely to ask questions in their classes and visit professors outside the class. Our students are more likely to work in leading roles on campus and be known by name throughout campus. Our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) majors have more direct access to state-of-the-art equipment than graduate students at research-focused universities. There are plenty of opportunities for students to participate in research in Dalton State. Likewise, we encourage our students to apply their classroom knowledge in a real-world setting (required in some majors).
Myth: Larger universities offer better preparation for their careers than smaller two-year or four-year colleges.
Fact: Because we maintain close contact with local employers and our faculty knows their students, Dalton State can often help match students in appropriate careers with paid internships or other service-learning activities. Our students get jobs easily, often even before graduation. If they choose to continue their education, our students will have completed their postgraduate studies at the best universities. Many employers in our community tell us that they are actively looking to hire our graduates.
Myth: Colleges and universities with competitive athletics teams, especially NCAA Division I, offer high quality college experiences to students.
Fact: Everyone enjoys being on a winning team or collaborating with them, which will certainly attract students to college or university, but the quality of academic qualification is not related to the institutional investment in their athletic program or the success of the teams.
Why do so many institutions, including Dalton State, offer athletic programs? While I do not believe that athletics makes us a high quality academic institution, activities such as intercollegiate competitions provide all students with extracurricular activities and additional opportunities to strengthen relationships with their classmates. In addition, these sports attract some students who do not attend college.
Clearly, I believe in the value of education. I have devoted my entire career to higher education. As a student, I joined public-private institutions, which were very selective and less selective. I found each of these to be a great investment of my time and money. It worked well for me. But I never encourage people to take out a substantial loan to enroll in an expensive college / university with “name recognition”. There are affordable and high quality opportunities to get a college degree. Dalton State is one of the best!
Margaret Wenable is president of Dalton State College.