Region's Business: Philadelphia Edition

Print Edition Commentary

Sharon Hirsh: College Education Still Worth It, Despite National Challenges

Rosemont offering cost-effective solutions

Sharon Hirsh is president of Rosemont College.

Sharon Hirsh is president of Rosemont College.

By Sharon Hirsh

It has been difficult to read a mainstream newspaper or an online higher education journal in recent weeks without encountering an article or an op-ed devoted to the rising costs of higher education in America.  And, as we all know, President Obama has made the issue one that he intends to address through new national initiatives in the coming years.

But, the issue is one that no one knows better than families do.

Around the kitchen tables and in the living rooms of millions of American homes, there is constant conversation about the cost of college.

How can a family make it possible?

Will there be enough federal, state, or institutional aid to cover what a family cannot pay?

Does the federal EFC (Expected Family Contribution) really reflect what a family can afford to pay?

What about loans and taking on debt?

And, the big question, sometimes said aloud and sometimes not: Is it all really worth it?

As the president of Rosemont College, and a person who has spent her life’s work in college teaching and administration and who has experienced first-hand over the last four decades how higher education changes lives, I can say emphatically, yes, a college degree is worth it. And the statistics back up my claim: College graduates climb the career ladder faster and make more money over the course of their lifetimes than non-college grads, they report greater satisfaction with their lives and life choices, and they even live longer than those who do not graduate from college.

However, it is certainly easy to sympathize with families wrestling with tough choices about the cost of higher education when we, as higher education leaders, face the fact that, according to a recent report by Bloomberg, the costs of higher education have risen a staggering 585 percent since 1985.

Compare that statistic to the 121 percent that the consumer price index has risen over the same time period, and we can all collectively gulp in sympathy with what families are going through to afford higher education.

As leaders of institutions of higher education, we need to proactively address this issue and become as efficient as possible in our operations.  I applaud my colleagues at other institutions who have recently instituted significant reductions in the cost of tuition or have guaranteed tuition rates for multiple years.

At Rosemont, we have developed cost-effective models by reducing administrative oversight.

From reducing the number of vice-presidential positions, to outsourcing the delivery of auxiliary services, to budgeting efficiently, we are driving resources to academic and student programs while controlling costs in other areas.  This past year, Rosemont instituted three-year formats for nine of our undergraduate majors, allowing students to accelerate their degree completion, with significant savings.

Many of the applicants for these programs will come to Rosemont having participated in dual enrollment courses in their high schools, which Rosemont supports through individual partnerships and through the Diocesan Scholars program in collaboration with other Catholic colleges and universities in the region.

And, we are constantly striving to do more.

For a Catholic liberal arts college such as Rosemont and all similar small to medium-sized colleges and universities to continue carrying out our missions, it is imperative that we respond to the needs of our students and families, so that higher education will continue to profoundly enhance the lives of Americans in the future.

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