Working to increase affordability of private education - Editorial for The Oklahoman
Oklahoma's college students and their parents, like families across the country, have faced rapidly escalating higher education costs for more than a decade. With the proposed cut of nearly $50 million in the governor's executive budget to state higher ed next year, that shortfall will again be placed on their shoulders.
St. Gregory's University in Shawnee gets no state general appropriations, so this cut won't affect our students. Quite the contrary, I recently sent a letter to all of our current and prospective students and their parents informing them of the measures St. Gregory's has taken to increase affordability.
We see the continuing decrease of budgets and increase of tuition among public institutions as an opportunity for private universities to even the playing field when it comes to affordability, and we are taking advantage. For the third straight year, St. Gregory's won't raise tuition. Juniors will pay the same for tuition as they did their freshman year, something that's mostly unheard of in higher education.
Distinctively, St. Gregory's has eliminated fees, starting this fall. Seemingly reasonable tuition rates can skyrocket quickly with a list of fees for everything from student activities to technology. The only fees our students may pay will be modest ones related to specific courses — for example, a lab fee for biology.
We've also established an extensive financial aid program with the assistance of generous donors. Nearly all of our students, at all income levels, receive grants and scholarships that don't have to be repaid. We offer more than 150 scholarships, such as a $3,000 grant for all active Catholic students. We will continue to buck the trend of escalating costs elsewhere by making the net price of attendance an ever-lowering percentage of the sticker price.
Furthermore, while other universities are moving toward block tuition, St. Gregory's will revert to per-credit hour pricing. Block tuition requires all full-time students to pay the same flat rate per semester, usually the equivalent cost of 15 credit hours.
We've found block tuition becomes a one-size-fits-all model that doesn't accommodate varying student needs. Many feel obligated to enroll in 15 hours, even if they need a lighter course load due to increased academic rigor of certain courses or commitments outside the classroom. We've had students enroll in 18-plus hours in an attempt to get the most "bang for their buck," and then struggle with the unrealistic workload. Our students now choose the class schedule that works best for them and pay accordingly.
St. Gregory's is committed to making a Catholic liberal arts education affordable to all. Half of our students are the first in their families to attend college; half are minorities. Only 60 percent are Catholic. We welcome students of all faiths, all income levels, all backgrounds to not only earn a degree, but most importantly, to discover who they are called to be and prepare for lives of meaning and purpose.