Crackin’ College Costs: Can Transfer Agreements Ease the Student Debt Crisis?
By Mike Lesczinski, Excelsior Life News Staff
ALBANY, NY - The cost of a higher education is under the microscope as tuition costs and student debt loads have increased in recent years. For many Americans, a college education is one of the largest investments they will make in their life.
In response, some higher education institutions, like Excelsior College, have made it part of its mission to find a way to boost Return on Investment (ROI) for all.
This was the focal point of the discussion at an Academic Partnership Forum held at Excelsior on September 11, as more than 20 two-year institutions from as far away as Texas joined the private, nonprofit, distance learning institution in Albany, N.Y. for a daylong event to discuss the benefits of transfer agreements.
“Cost is a formidable roadblock to a higher education, which is why we have targeted cost containment as a central core of our mission,” said Lisa LaVigna, executive director of Outreach and Access for Excelsior College, following the event. “If our nation is to meet President Obama’s goal of developing a more educated workforce by 2020, community colleges will play a central role and this forum was an opportunity to discuss the Excelsior College model with them: to see how we can work together to lower costs for all of our students.”
Community College participants were greeted with several presentations that discussed the Excelsior College transfer experience. Topics included “Degree Completion Scenarios for Transfer Students,” “Advisors in Action,” and “Mission: Degree Completion.” The sessions underscored the need to boost degree completion through multiple pathways: a liberal transfer policy and low residency requirements, credit by examination and Prior Learning Assessment (PLA). A recorded version of the session is available online.
Following lunch, Tom Dalton (pictured above), assistant vice president for Enrollment Management, led the community colleges through a presentation on Financial Aid options for transfer students.
Accepting credit in transfer as a pathway to degree completion has been a hallmark of the Excelsior experience since the institution was founded in 1971. In fiscal year 2012, Excelsior College accepted 14,046 transfer students who brought approximately 616,000 approved credits with them. Assuming each credit is worth $355 (the per credit tuition rate for fiscal year 2012) then the value of credit accepted in transfer that year, what Excelsior calls its Knowledge Value Index, was approximately $219 million. These are real dollars that students, their families and benefactors – including government aid programs – did not have to pay for a second time.
Community colleges and Excelsior College are uniquely suited for this type of partnership. The average age of an Excelsior College student is 37 years and working toward a degree part-time. The average community college student is 29 – with two-thirds attending school part-time – according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Modeling an agreement on the acceptance of transfer credit is one worth replicating among colleges targeting traditional age students, said Forum attendees.
“Study after study has proven the value of a college degree on lifetime earnings, but the six-digit price tag is still a roadblock that must be overcome,” said William Stewart, assistant vice president for Institutional Advancement at Excelsior. “What if more colleges followed our lead and were more accepting of coursework completed at other accredited institutions? We could certainly make college a more attractive and affordable option to degree seekers of all ages.”
According to the Brookings Institution, on average, a four-year college degree equals a $102,000 investment with a 15.2 percent annual ROI over the working lifetime of a typical 18 year old. This is a far higher return than if a student had used that same money to invest in the stock market or any other financial alternative.