Private Higher Education: A Wise Investment

President Greg Christy


For several years, I’ve listened as the national media question the value of private higher education. Much has been written about tuition increases exceeding inflation rates.

Most people don’t understand that when the tuition "sticker price" increases, the net cost usually doesn’t increase proportionally. In truth, many private institutions offer aid that keeps their net costs competitive with public institutions.

For example, our tuition was just over $21,500 in 2007–08; this year’s was just over $27,500, an increase of 3.4 percent per year. Meanwhile, we have increased institutional financial aid by 6.4 percent annually, from $10.3 million to $15.7 million. This is certainly one of the reasons 97 percent of our students’ parents say an NWC education is worth it.

Bottom line: Before assuming private higher education is too expensive, compare the real costs. Use the cost calculator found on every private college’s website. You’ll find out they’re more affordable than you think.

There are several other myths perpetuated in the media regarding private colleges:

Fiction: Only the wealthy can afford private college.
Fact:  Private colleges in Iowa educate around 4,000 more financially needy students than the three regents institutions combined.

Fiction: Public universities are less expensive.
Fact: Private colleges can be less expensive when you pair generous aid with the fact that more private college students (78 percent) graduate in four years or less.

Fiction: Private college graduates have way more debt.
Fact: Average loan debt for Iowa’s private college graduates is around $31,600—not much higher than the debt for public university grads, $28,300.

Fiction: Private college grads can’t get jobs.
Fact: Ninety-five percent of Northwestern alumni are employed or in graduate school within six months after graduation.

Ultimately, the value of any college education is proven in its graduates. The intimate class environments of private colleges pay dividends in genuine learning and mentoring relationships that shape students’ character and knowledge. Numerous studies show that graduates of private colleges are more engaged in their community during and after college than their public institution peers. Indeed, the 2014 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll recognizes 18 Iowa private colleges, including NWC.

The ability to understand and engage with one’s neighbors is needed in our culture more than ever. And it’s an "outcome" of the education private colleges offer that is just as important as high placement rates. We want our graduates to have successful careers, but we also want to prepare them for thoughtful leadership in their communities.

For value-added outcomes like an educated, engaged citizenry, some college choices are better than others and worth the investment. The track record of private colleges for producing these kinds of graduates and delivering an affordable education is impressive—and that’s the truth.

Versions of this article were previously published as op-eds in the Des Moines Register and Sioux City Journal. My last column was also edited from my Fall Convocation speech and borrowed from the wisdom of Bill Robinson, president emeritus of Whitworth University. I regret that the edited version failed to cite Dr. Robinson.

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