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College education more affordable than most think

By Pamela Crosby

Affordable tuition is an important challenge for United Methodist colleges and universities today, according to a university president.

James Davis, president of Shenandoah University, Winchester, Va., said "one of the greatest challenges facing United Methodist institutions of higher education is related to keeping our programs affordable for students and staying true to our mission which has always included excellence in scholarship and service to the church."

As the cost of higher education rises rapidly at public and some private institutions, United Methodist colleges and universities work to keep their tuition increases at less than 5 percent.

Tuition and fees at a public four-year institution this academic year cost an average of $4,694, a 14.1 percent increase over 2002-03. The average tuition and fees at a private, four-year college or university are $19,710, a 6 percent increase over last year. Factoring in room and board, books and supplies greatly increases the cost, according to the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

"It's getting outrageous," said Chelsea Curtley, a second-year student at the University of Houston. "I had to drop some classes because I couldn't afford them."

A sluggish economy and state budget deficits mean many students at public and private schools pay record-breaking tuition increases to help institutions compensate for cuts in state funding. Contributing to college and university budgets are declining endowments, a downturn in fund-raising revenues, increasingly scarce state and federal support for student aid, and skyrocketing costs for health care, updated library resources, and technology.

Tuition and fees at United Methodist-related institutions are part of the College Board averages, but higher education officials observe that the college cost is rising faster at institutions other than United Methodist-related schools.

Private college and university presidents are working hard to minimize the impact of tuition increases while maintaining the quality of education and training they provide, according to Davis.

"The natural forces in our society push our institutions from being access points for educational opportunity for the underserved to being selective enrollment centers that serve the affluent and brightest," he explained.

"It is a challenge to keep open pathways for the first-generation college students, children from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds, and even adults who have been deprived the chance to attend college out of high school," Davis added.

Ken Yamada, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said a private education is more affordable than most families think.

Thanks to a variety of federal and state grants, scholarships, matching programs with churches, loan programs, and work-study opportunities, students pay less than the published tuition at private colleges and universities. United Methodist-related institutions pride themselves on the efforts to help students meet their educational dreams, he said.

Although rapid double-digit tuition increases at publicly-supported state institutions prompted a U.S. Congress investigation, tuition costs at United Methodist colleges and universities have maintained an average of 20 percent below the national average, said Yamada.

The published price list at United Methodist schools is relatively high, but the actual cost to students is not significantly higher, according to Ted Brown, president of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. "In fact, after several rounds of major tuition/fee increases at public institutions over the last few years, our actual cost to students is very competitive," he noted.

Katherine Vaught, a second-year, political science major at Shenandoah University, said she expected her college costs to be high no matter where she went. "With my grants, scholarships, and work study, it didn't cost much more than going to a public school," she said.

Vaught receives government grants and loans, a grant through the United Methodist Church, and a $4,000 academic scholarship.

According to the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, United Methodist-related institutions offer generous scholarship programs. Approximately $265 million in scholarship funding was provided for 46,113 United Methodist students in 1999.

Adam Burgett, a junior at Martin Methodist College, said he was not eligible to take advantage of government grants, but help from United Methodist programs eased his financial load considerably.

Pursing a major in church vocations with an emphasis on pre-seminary, Burgett received help through the board's Gift of Hope: 21st Century Scholars Program and the United Methodist Higher Education Foundation's "Double Your Dollars for Scholars" program, which matches gifts from local congregations, and a work study program.

United Methodist local churches are partnering with institutions on scholarship assistance and support. "My church gave me a small scholarship when I graduated from high school. Then, I approached them with the Double Your Dollars for Scholars program, and they contributed again," said Burgett.

He said he also benefits from the Center for Church Leadership, a program that identifies, recruits, and trains individuals for effective leadership within the United Methodist Church.

"We are finding that churches are willing to do this because they see the way we are providing a service back to them through the Center for Church Leadership," Brown said. "I don't think there is any question that the way to keep the cost of church-related education down is to offer programs that make a difference for the churches, that provide skilled and dedicated leadership back to the congregations."

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