Kelly outlines student affordability ‘conundrum’

By Thomas Pardee

Columbia’s vice president of Student Affairs, Mark Kelly, outlined the financial challenges facing colleges all over the country during the monthly College Council meeting, held on Nov. 7 in the Hokin Annex, on the first floor of the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave.

Kelly’s presentation included data compiled about Columbia students’ incomes and financing methods, as well as those of local schools like Loyola University and DePaul Universtiy, and other arts and media schools like Emerson College in Boston.

These numbers highlighted what Kelly called a “sobering” truth-that institutional and federal funding can’t keep up with inflation, so students are turning to credit-based private loans to finance their education.

He said as the economy continues toward an uncertain future, this trend will, as well.

“Students are struggling to secure private loans to pay for tuition, just as personal finances weaken in families and home equity plummets,” Kelly said to the council. “The belief is students are going to be migrating from more expensive colleges [like Columbia] to less expensive colleges, including community to state colleges.”

Kelly said students and parents are growing more concerned in the return they hope to receive on their educational investment. He said families are choosing colleges with very specific criterion in mind.

“Private colleges are going to be significantly impacted by this,” Kelly said. “With graduates earning less in this difficult economy, parents are weighing that against likely career earnings, and the question of value-that is what they will receive in their education-becomes ever more pressing.”

Other than trying to keep regular tuition increases below 5 percent each year, Kelly said the college is working on boosting its scholarship offerings to help address the affordability issue.

Peter Hartell, an artist-in-residence in the Film and Video Department and member of the College Council, responded to Kelly’s presentation by urging fundraisers to put pressure on successful alumni to help boost scholarship offerings.

“There are a lot of alumni out there who are working in their fields,” Hartell said. “There needs to be a better connection between solicitations for donations to the college and the people who are working because of the fact that they went [here].”

Deborah Holdstein, dean of the school of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said re-evaluating each department’s core requirements while still maintaining high educational standards is an important step toward helping students graduate more quickly and thereby save tuition dollars.

“What do we do when we look at majors with 92 core credit hours? There’s no way a student is going to graduate in four years,” Holdstein said. “I think each of us [deans, associate deans and department chairs] needs to be told to look at our major curriculum and see what we can do to help students move expeditiously through Columbia.”

Kelly also said core requirements should be reconsidered across the board.

“[The time it takes for students to graduate] is not something any of us has concerned ourselves with, but we’re in a different era and we can no longer rely on old ways,” he said.

Though the issue of student affordability is far-reaching, Kelly said he has no clear solution. He said the college needs to keep it on the front burner through the uncertain financial times ahead.

“I would like to say, ‘Here’s the great way we’ll proceed,’ but we have no good answer,” he said. “That being said, we need to dance around the edges of this issue, and we need to dance very hard.”