“That’ll be $31,606.00 plus fees. How would you like to pay for that?”
Like most students, I would like to pay with “fake” money through student loans and worry about the bill down the road. The question many students start to ask only too late is "At what cost?" Christian education is a staple in the Adventist community. “Church, Home, and School” has been touted as the chain links of a young person’s spiritual development.
Going through the Adventist educational system since birth, I’ve grown to have a profound appreciation for education that is deeply rooted in my spiritual beliefs. It is for that reason that I’ve faithfully attended these institutions even through university contrary to my bank account’s advice.
Most Adventists wholeheartedly endorse Adventist education. With institutions all over the world there is virtually no place a child can’t be sent for some level of Adventist education--especially in the United States. Still, many families opt out of sending their kids to these institutions deciding to be “realistic” about their resources, instead choosing the exceedingly more affordable options of public or homeschool education. Stay at home moms or dads have been ancouraged to keep the youth sheltered from the “sinful way of the world” and educate kids themselves. But how many homeschool parents can handle high school Algebra, let alone college courses? It doesn’t take a high school algebra proficiency to figure out how much our universities are costing not only Adventist families in the present, but also Adventist college graduates in the future.
In the United States we have nine undergraduate universities and colleges.* The following are estimated annual costs** for each:***
Any student who has attended an Adventist college or university can tell you--these estimates put it nicely. On average these numbers include a tuition package of 12-16 credits (based on semester schools), residence hall, meals, and a very vague label of general fees. However, these costs are far from being the total cost. Books now cost upwards of a grand for one semester. To even begin classes, most campuses require a minimum of 20-40% down right away. In combination with enrollment fees, dorm fees, and traveling costs, students are paying a small fortune just to enroll. Then come the costs during the school year. Students who want to be involved in social activities such as clubs or organizations can, for a price. Not attending enough of the required chapel or spiritual events (mandatory attendance of spiritual events is another subject for a different time) can incur fines of as much as $300. For some of the more “conservative campuses” there are fines for hair color, jewelry...even failing to arrive at the dorm on time. All of these incidentals can easily add another couple thousand dollars to the already sky-high bill.
I do not doubt God can provide these funds. I feel convinced God wants me at an Adventist Institution. My concern has to do with how much it costs. These price tags are approaching the costs of Ivy League undergrad universities such as Harvard and Yale, but we certainly do not get the same recognition as these notorious institutions do. How many of these fees are really required, and where is the money going? Students will be the first to tell you the funds aren’t going into rehabilitating their living quarters. Many campuses seem to choose to fund cosmetic overhauls-- newer buildings and changes that make campuses prettier instead of funding living quarters or dining halls per the needs and wants of the students.
It’s even more frustrating when Adventist universities and college websites downplay the financial strain they put on families and students.
Walla Walla University student financial website states, "Naturally, if you're choosing a college, you need to look at the price tag. But it's equally important that you then look past it, to the bottom line--because your out-of-pocket cost is what truly counts.” As an international business student at Andrews University, I'll tell you that this contradicts what they teach us in business school.
Union College says they’re “...working together. Paying for college takes teamwork. You, your family, Union College and the federal government work together to help you earn your degree.” What they have failed to note is the very real possibility that Adventist families may not be financially capable of contributing. In that case that “teamwork” for financial responsibility becomes a team of one--the student.
My own school, Andrews University, has made students sign electronically a notice notifying the students that they “acknowledge that, should I choose an installment payment plan, my monthly installment amount is required in full by the 25th of each month. Should this payment not be made within 15 days of the due date, I will be dropped from classes and my ID card will be cancelled." This policy is new this 2012-2013 school year.
A student created this rage comics meme-inspired image to express the relief students feel when receiving their financial clearance at Andrews University.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend slogging through financial clearance tweeted, “Parents writing checks for $3,000 and putting another $3,000 on the credit card yep that’s normal.”
Students are being hit with stress before they even get to their classrooms. Tuition costs have only gone up as unemployment and the financial crisis has gotten increasingly worse. Only Pacific Union College has frozen tuition costs stating “We’re increasing possibilities-not your tuition”. Beside offering more loans and some scholarships to students, what are institutions doing about helping their students' finances?
I’m a strong supporter of Adventist education. My family has fought to put me through our educational system since I started school, and it has been just that--a fight. Through financial struggles my parents put their faith in the One who counts. Many people have asked me how I can afford it, and I honestly answer them: I have no answer besides God wants me here. This doesn’t excuse our campuses' seeming lack of proactive financial assistance. This past May, a friend who graduated from PUC posted, “$30,000 in student loans, please not the face.” I want to be hit with spiritually-infused knowledge, not debt.
*Loma Linda University and Kettering College offer a variety of undergraduate degrees but are not strictly undergraduate campuses, hence their omission from this analysis.
**All estimated costs taken from each University and College official website under tuition costs.
***After the publication of this article, Scott Cushman shared a response in the comments section below stating that Union College (where Cushman is employed) will cost $27,100 this year. "The number above is a generous typo," Cushman said.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4716