College Admissions Hold Steady Despite High Tuition, Slow Economy
Easy availability of financial aid means few students pay "sticker price" for tuition
Despite a slow economy and high tuition costs, enrollment held steady this year at most Indiana colleges and universities, and easier access to financial aid appears to be one of the main reasons.
While the larger state schools saw their student numbers fall slightly since last year, many smaller colleges, most of them private, grew in size despite their higher price tag.
Butler University has the largest freshman class in the history of the school, partly a product of increased interest generated by Butler's back-to-back trips to the NCAA men's basketball championship game. The University of Indianapolis welcomed its second-biggest freshman class and has more students overall than ever before. Mark Weigand, UIndy's vice president of student affairs and enrollment management, says the school's specialty in the health sciences, such as nursing and physical therapy, helped keep enrollment from dropping, because many students sought out those largely recession-proof careers.
DePauw University in Greencastle also saw a small increase in enrollment, while Hanover College just missed it's record for freshman class size. Though these and other private colleges cost more than state universities, most students never pay what's listed on the price tag. "Our sticker price at Butler is around $43,000. But almost no one pays that total amount," said Tom Weede, vice president of enrollment management at Butler, who added that he believes schools don't do a good job of talking about the difference between the listed price for tuition and the actual price paid by most students.
Nationally, the amount of total financial aid offered to students grew to $30 billion last year, an increase of more than $8 billion from 2007. But that increase coincides with large tuition increases at virtually every school, sending those extra dollars directly to university and college coffers. Over the last decade, the College Board says the average cost for tuition and fees at public universities has risen six-percent per year faster than the inflation rate; costs have risen two-point-six-percent per year faster at private schools.
Enrollment in the IU system was unchanged overall for Fall 2012, with some campuses getting bigger and others getting smaller. Bloomington and IUPUI both saw the student population drop slightly, though the freshman classes at each school were larger than last year. Conversely, IU Kokomo and IU East in Richmond both saw enrollment go up by 12-percent. Indiana State University also bucked the public school downward trend - the Terre Haute campus has seen enrollment increases each of the last three years.
Purdue University's enrollment went down this fall, though the home of the Boilermakers says it turned away more prospective students on purpose. This year's freshman class is smaller than last year's by 368 students, as Purdue tries to move toward target student populations of 30,000 undergraduates and 9,000 graduate students. Purdue's dean of admissions, Pamela Horne, says the school's goal is "matching the size of the student body with our physical and education resources." Translation - they're short on room for more people.
Ball State University also had a smaller freshman class this year by design. Tom Taylor, Ball State's vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications, says 2012 was still a solid year for admissions, but adds the university was looking to hold down the number of freshman after recruiting a record freshman class last year. Taylor also says Ball State is similar to other schools in that it's receiving more applications. "(Students are) putting a larger number of schools in their initial selection set because they want to be sure they have a variety of different options. I think that's reflective of concerns about the economy."
The fastest college growth rate in the state belongs to a school that's only three years old. WGU-Indiana, the non-profit online university created by the state in partnership with Western Governors University, reached a milestone this month by enrolling its 3,000th student. WGU Chancellor Allison Barber says the school's growth is directly tied to the niche it fills - almost all it's students are adults returning to college, and Barber says 70-percent of them work full-time jobs while taking classes. Barber says being an online university also helps it control costs. WGU caps tuition at $6,000 per year, a price that hasn't changed since it's creation. "We're committed to holding down costs. This is a choice we make every day to keep a very small footprint in the way of facilities and to create a system where all of our faculty members work from home," said Barber.
A lower tuition price is no guarantee of getting more students. Ivy Tech Community College, which touts the low cost of it's two-year or less programs, saw it's statewide enrollment drop by seven-percent this year, with the largest decreases at it's Richmond and Columbus campuses. An Ivy Tech representative was unavailable for comment for this story, but school officials had previously said they expected to see plateaus in the number of students. The school adds that enrollment at its Indianapolis campus was virtually unchanged, and the school also expects more students to sign up as more classes begin in the next few months.