Making college truly affordable

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register         

WHEELING, W.Va. — Too many plans to “make college more affordable” do nothing of the sort. Typical are nearly all such initiatives in Washington, which merely shift the burden of paying for higher education. For example, President Barack Obama’s suggestion community college be “free” would be covered by taxpayers.

A new affordability plan by Ohio State University President Michael Drake would mix some of that cost-sharing with real savings. He wants to provide $400 million during the next five years to help students pay for college.

During the first year of Drake’s campaign, it would provide $15 million in scholarships. He hopes to increase that aid.

Money for the program will come from “innovative financing” and “administrative efficiencies,” Drake has said. Such action would lower the cost of college at OSU rather than merely finding new ways for students to pay existing higher education bills.

Drake is taking a step in the right direction, and for that he deserves praise. Other colleges and universities ought to ask for a list of his efficiencies and emulate OSU.

Still, OSU is missing the boat on the most dramatic method of curbing college costs – fewer years of paying to go to class.

As we have pointed out several times, the new “normal” for obtaining a bachelor’s degree from a so-called “four-year college” is six years. That is how success is measured now.

OSU does quite well in comparison to other colleges and universities. The average six-year graduation rate for public institutions in Ohio is 54.6 percent. At OSU, it is 83.2 percent. Rates for completion in four years are 31.9 percent for Buckeye State public colleges and universities, and 58.5 percent for OSU.

Still, getting bachelor’s degrees into the hands of more OSU students within four years would save an enormous amount of money. According to the university, it costs $130,218 for tuition, fees, room and board to spend six years on campus. The four-year cost is $86,812.

Again Drake deserves commendation for his plan. And OSU does a comparatively good job with four-year graduation rates. But more can and should be done to truly make college more affordable.

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