Minnesotans split on value of U ed.

Only 51 percent of Minnesotans think the U provides a good education.

by Conor Shine

 Most Minnesotans feel it’s important for the University of Minnesota to provide a high-quality education at an affordable price. But nearly half of those who responded to a recently released survey felt the University could do better.
The Public Perception and Attitude Survey polled 700 Minnesotans last December for their thoughts on the University, ranging from how it’s finances are managed to how it should be funded and whether they felt connected to the school.
While about two-thirds of the general public holds a positive opinion of the University, Minnesotans were split when it came to the question of the value of a University education. Only 51 percent of Minnesotans described the University as offering “good value” for their tuition dollars.
The results were presented to the Board of Regents at their September meeting.
 Defining what value is can be tough, said Ben Miller, a policy analyst with Education Sector, a nonprofit think tank.
“If students are taking on too much debt relative to what they’re earning after graduating, then that’s a problem,” Miller said. “For most people the general logic is ‘Am I going to get enough from this degree in order to pay off what went into it?’ “
University President Bob Bruininks said he wasn’t surprised that only 51 percent of Minnesotans considered the University a good value for the cost.
While attending college is expensive, Bruininks said many people fail to factor in financial aid and over-estimate the actual cost, lessening the perceived value of a degree.
“Hardly anybody knows what the cost of an airline trip from here to Seattle is too, because everybody is paying a different price,” he said. “That’s what’s happening in higher education today … many people don’t factor in support that discounts the price of education.”
Bruininks said the University needs to do a better job educating the public about the actual cost of attendance and ways students can make that cost lower for themselves, like graduating in four years or earning college credit while in high school.
The issue is becoming more important in college decisions due to the economic recession, Miller said.
“People are really starting to ask the question ‘Is the college I’m looking to pay for worth it?’ “ he said.
Even with increasing tuition costs, Miller said he thinks public universities offer an education on par or better than most private colleges for a cheaper price, often making public universities the better value.
Getting a good value for his tuition dollars was important for junior Caleb Lovelace, who attended Normandale Community College  for two years to save money.
Lovelace, who is now studying microbiology at the University, said although he’s taken on some debt to pay for his education, he thinks having a degree will help him get a job that makes paying off the debt feasible.
“I definitely plan on getting a return on my investment.”