College recruitment has recently become a cut-throat business, as more colleges compete for enrollments. For example, every day new colleges start to advertise on television, with for-profit institutions leading the pack-though this has led to a political backlash. Last month, Democratic representatives George Miller (Calif.) and John Tierney (Mass.) introduced The College Student Rebate Act in order to ensure that all colleges (though specifically targeting for-profit colleges) respect the “80/20″ rule mandating that colleges spend no more than 20% of the federal funding they get on non-educational expenses, including advertising.
In addition, everyone knows that college costs have increased in the past few years, for a variety of reasons. Students now need to prioritize the economic aspects of their college decisions over other factors, such as faculty quality, location, etc. The mushrooming of new institutions that offer online degrees has added to the competitive dynamic.
Finally, despite higher costs, students have been enrolling in college programs over the past decade in higher numbers. According to the Department of Education,
- “Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 11 percent between 1990 and 2000.”
- “Between 2000 and 2010, enrollment increased 37 percent, from 15.3 million to 21.0 million.”
- “Much of the growth between 2000 and 2010 was in full-time enrollment; the number of full-time students rose 45 percent.”
- “The number of part-time students rose 26 percent.”
- “In addition to enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 539,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible, postsecondary institutions in fall 2009. These institutions are postsecondary institutions that do not award associate’s or higher degrees; they include, for example, institutions that offer only career and technical programs of less than 2 years’ duration.”
This increase in enrollment has stretched the resources of most colleges and especially public institutions; stories of students waiting for classes to fill their graduation requirements are common. All of these factors mean that competition for student tuition among colleges has become sharper and more pronounced that at any other time. And this is having a pronounced effect on the ways that public colleges and universities see their missions and conceptualize their futures.
Effect of Competition in Institutions
Some public colleges have decided to meet the competition from for-profit colleges by offering substantial tuition discounts or new programming options to attract students. For example, Alina Mogilyanskaya reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education that the University of South Carolina is fighting to attract students who would normally enroll in for-profit programs by creating a new online degree program for specifically for students aged 25 years and older who had once been active students, with at least 60 credits on their transcripts. The “Back to Carolina program” will start in the Fall 2013 semester as an option for students who normally would have tried to complete their degrees at for-profit online.
The university hopes that the new program will both enhance the current offerings at all its campuses, create more flexible opportunities to study for students all over the state, and compete with the for-profit colleges that have been siphoning off potential students.
The desire of state university systems to compete with the private for-profit systems is not unilaterally embraced, however. In March, there were protests against a new California State University (CSU) plan to expand online offerings as a way of competing with for-profit colleges. Critics blasted by the plan, because the CSU system is already in disarray. As Joseph Palermo wrote on The Huffington Post,
“In the past two years the CSU system has shed some 8,000 course offerings, (about 6 percent of the total), at the same time thousands of students are being turned away. Now the Chancellor and Trustees propose a $20 million expansion of on-line courses to ‘compete’ with for-profit ‘colleges.’ They haven’t adequately explained why the CSU now must hunt for new students out of state to ‘compete’ against for-profits while closing their doors to qualified California students. The Chancellor and Trustees appear to be fast-tracking an end run around the public and the faculty by calling for enlarging the Extended Education operations, which do not require the same scrutiny under California law as does the rest of the CSU system.”
It’s not only public, non-profit institutions that have responded to the increase in competition, either. To counter criticism of for-profit colleges, Strayer University recently began offering tuition discounts. As I wrote in my post about the new scholarships, “With an average tuition of $18,000 per year, Strayer’s costs for the student are more than double the average cost of tuition at a public college or university, which is a little over $8000 per year. The new scholarships at Strayer can amount to up to a 30% discount off of the standard tuition, representing a substantial reduction in cost that will greatly benefit its students.”
It will be interesting to see how this financial battle continues, and how it will affect students in the long run. As more public and private universities offer online programming, and more for-profit colleges offer tuition discounts, will the competition even out? Will cost become less a factor in swaying a student’s choice between public and private for-profit institutions? Will a school’s reputation suffer it if offers lower-cost programs?
What do you think are the answers to these questions? Respond here!