Tuition cost factor for graduates
The thrill of getting into a desirable school couldn’t beat the sting of the price tag.
Central High School senior Ashlun Huff-Mullin applied to six colleges this year, including Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho. It was flattering to get an acceptance letter from the school, she said. But without enough financial aid to cover the nearly $50,000 per year cost of tuition at Northwest Nazarene, she knew choosing to attend the school “wasn’t going to happen.”
“I cannot put my family in that position,” she said.
Like many other graduating District 51 seniors, Huff-Mullin chose to stay close to home and accepted an offer to attend Colorado Mesa University on a full-ride scholarship. Fruita Monument High School seniors Leanna Miller and Seirrha Key will join Huff-Mullin at Colorado Mesa this fall. Miller said she can’t afford to attend school out-of-state and chose Colorado Mesa so she could save money by living at home. Key said she wants to major in art and considered attending an art school in Denver, but found tuition there would be three times the cost of tuition at Colorado Mesa.
Tuition and fee costs increased by as much as 20 percent year-over-year at Colorado’s public colleges and universities in 2011–12 and will likely rise again this year. A study commissioned by the Colorado Department of Higher Education and released earlier this year found high school seniors are 3.4 percent less likely to choose a college or university if the school increases its tuition by $1,000. The study gathered data from more than 31,000 students who graduated high school between 2004 and 2010 in Colorado and were accepted to at least two four-year Colorado public colleges of universities.
Palisade High School Counselor Lori Starr said she believes finances are primarily responsible for a nearly 10 percent decrease in the number of Palisade seniors planning to go to college this year compared with the class of 2011. Starr said more and more parents are coming to tell her they aren’t sure they can afford college, particularly because scholarships and college loans won’t cover the full cost of college as often as they did in the part, Starr said.
“There are more banks doing private loans than they used to because there’s a need, but it’s not an easy question for parents, ‘Can I take on more debt?’ Because they’re already maxed out,” Starr said.
The department of higher education study found race and income in particular impacted where students chose to spend life after high school. White students were 2.7 percent less likely to attend a school that increased tuition by $1,000, while black and Hispanic students were 8.2 percent less likely to choose a school with the same inflation. Grand Junction High School senior Ayisha Pope, who is black, said she plans to wait a year to go to college so she can save up for tuition and apply for more scholarships. She said it’s hard for some students to go to school right now because they want to help their families through tough economic times. But she was inspired to pursue a nursing degree at Colorado Mesa University after she and her best friend, who is Hispanic, completed Certified Nursing Assistant certification this year at Western Colorado Community College.
“It helps to know other minorities are doing it,” she said of pursuing higher education.
The study also found a student who lived in a household with an income of $30,000 or less became 9.6 percent less likely to attend a school after a $1,000 tuition increase, but students living in a home with a household income higher than $30,000 became 3.3 percent more likely to attend a school with the same cost increase.
Central High School student Orrin Boese said he would have allowed prestige to outweigh costs if he had gotten into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He didn’t, though, and will attend Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont., this fall.
Non-resident tuition is more expensive than staying in-state for most students. Boese said the deciding factor in picking Montana was that the school offered him a scholarship that pays half of his tuition cost, which will be about $28,000 a year. Boese received a $10,000 scholarship from Encana, too.
“Sometimes bigger schools will meet your need, but not always. I applied to some other schools where tuition was $45,000 a year and I said no,” Boese said.
Starr said she tells students and parents worried about tuition to try living at home and attending Colorado Mesa and taking fewer classes so tuition charges, which depend on how many college credits a student earns, will be lower.
“It may take them six years to finish a four-year degree, but they still have a degree,” Starr said. “Statistics still support a degree will decrease the chance of a person getting laid off and will double their lifetime earnings.”