Are private schools less costly than U?

Kelly Wittman

According to a recent survey, it can be cheaper to attend a private college in Minnesota instead of the University because students are more likely to graduate in four years.
But University President Nils Hasselmo said this is an attainable goal for students here, too.
“We have effectively removed all barriers to graduation in four years,” Hasselmo said. “Students have family and work obligations which require them to take more time but to say you cannot graduate from the University in four years is nonsense.”
The study, from the Minnesota Private College Fund and Research Council, states that students who extend their studies longer than four years are missing out. Those who spend more than four years in school are ineligible for state grants, and some colleges do not give internal grants to students who have been there longer than four years.
In addition, students who take even one extra year to finish may be out as much as $22,000 that they could have earned working that year.
The study states that private schools may be a better choice for students because they have a high four-year graduation rate. Moreover, the average cost of attending a private school for a year in Minnesota is $18,900. But with financial aid, which almost 70 percent of private students receive, the cost is reduced to an average $10,300, including tuition, books and housing.
In comparison, the University costs about $11,400 a year, and about 44 percent of undergraduates get financial aid. The University has a four-year graduation rate of 14.9 percent and ranks 42nd in a list of 52 land-grant research institutions in terms of graduation rate.
Finishing college in four years is the key to keeping higher education costs down, said David Laird Jr., president of the Minnesota Private College Research Foundation.
The main reason private schools succeed in getting students out in four years, he said, is because most students and faculty at private school use resources more efficiently.
In a private setting, administrators focus on having students around for shorter periods of time, Laird said. This means more students can be served in the long run.
This is turned around in a public institution, Laird said, and the school is rewarded for keeping students around longer.
Some private schools are so serious about getting students through in four years that they’ve offered a guarantee.
Hamline University and the College of St. Scholastica both offer this promise. If students live up to their academic plans — taking enough credits each semester in the proper categories — the schools promise to have enough sections of each class, or pay for the classes after a student’s fourth year. St. Mary’s offers a similar agreement.
“I could concoct a scenario where is would cost less to go to a private school for four years rather then come to the University for five or six years,” said Peter Zetterberg, director of the Office of Planning and Analysis for the University.
Zetterberg said he doesn’t deny that the study could have found it cheaper to go to a private school. But he emphasizes that many students taking five or six years to finish at the University also work and end up with jobs after graduation from the businesses that employed them as students.
Minnesota Student Association Vice President Eric Hanson agreed students can absolutely be out of the University in four years, even without taking summer session classes.
Hanson said as a College of Liberal Arts student, attaining the 180 credits to graduate in four years is not a problem if you put your mind to it. But for Institute of Technology students — where it takes more credits to graduate — it may not be such a bad thing for students to take five years, he said.
Hasselmo and Laird agree that animosity between public universities and private colleges won’t solve anything.
“If we choose up sides based on our economic status or whether we’re public or a private school,” Laird said, “we’re shortchanging society and ourselves in the long run.”