The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
On the cusp of the announcement by catholic Belmont Abbey College that they were cutting their annual tuition by a full third starting in 2013, it only seemed appropriate to lead with a biblical quote. The news over the wire was that the college was cutting tuition by $10000 to about $18000 starting in 2013 and in the announcement, they stated that they were doing it in response to the ongoing disproportionate rise of college tuition over the past two decades. I have to applaud their action as they acknowledge in their statement that many good students are discouraged from applying to colleges based on the published price alone. They are realizing that the financial maneuvers in the college financials appear to be, as one close friend stated, just so much funny money; both she and we were told to ignore the published price and focus on the actual price, net of grants, work-study and loans. The process is confusing to many and can be offputting, as more and more kids and families look at things and say to hell with it.
In all fairness, Belmont Abbey isn’t actually the first small school to cut their tuition but they are among the first of several small schools – the little children – who are saying enough. Part of it is, I believe, an actual sense that things truly are out of control and that they have a moral obligation to do what they can in both the micro and macro sense of helping to lead the way. Part of it is also simply an act of enlightened self-interest as the understanding that folks are staying away because of the published price. While Belmont Abbey states that they’re in a good position with new infrastructure and a full class of students, they also are looking at the other trends in American society and recognizing that if they aren’t in trouble now, then they will be.
While the much higher rise in college costs is the major factor in the equation, it’s now being slowly eclipsed by the realization that the ever-dependable middle class is being throttled. Since the recession of 2007, family incomes have declined and there’s simply no sign that they’re coming back as the majority of jobs being created are part-time only and more Americans are forced to eat courtesy of local food banks and the US Government’s SNAP program. Barring an economic miracle to massively bolster family incomes, and that’s not remotely likely, then the institutions will be forced to make the cuts themselves and put the word out. While some may think that the colleges are panicking, the rule of thumb is that he who panics first panics best and those institutions will be ahead of the curve.
So if Belmont Abbey’s action gains legs and spreads, that’s only part of the battle. There should also be work done to make the process easier to understand for the average family, and that’s something that can be done by the higher education establishment. But the families have to do their part and actually pay attention to the process and not simply leave it to the hands of the kids who don’t have the experience necessary to adequately assess all of the complexities in the process. This doesn’t even consider what would be necessary on a national level to stem the economic decline at the family level.