Most financially prudent people search for a good balance of price and quality when shopping for televisions and groceries and automobiles, but few consider value when shopping for higher education. Accelerated programs give you all the value of a traditional program at a cheaper price. Though tuition costs alone are often a factor in choosing a college, the overall value — the quality of education received for the price — is rarely a reason students and alumni give for choosing their particular schools.
The admissions office of the college where I got my undergraduate degree boasts of the school’s high rank among “best value” colleges on lists compiled by U.S. News & World Reports, Princeton Review, and other publications. On my tour around campus as a prospective student, I heard that the school’s founder, with the legendary foresight that all founders seem to demonstrate, wanted to offer quality education at a price affordable for the middle class. The tour guide also made sure to mention that the school does not go into debt to build a new building — construction does not start until all the money is raised.
Based solely on the financial emphasis in the school’s sales pitch, you could rightly guess that the idea of getting the most for my money was inherent in my education, even though my major was not at all related to finance or economics. When I was a student at this small, private college just over a decade ago, my annual education bill was less than $10,000, with tuition lower (but room and board slightly higher) than that of a state school one of my friends attended. The school’s website says that the tuition, room & board, and a notebook computer (which all freshmen are now required to purchase) currently total $18,514 for all degree programs.
The college also emphasizes high academic standards, a claim I found to be accurate. One of my classmates had spent a few semesters at an Ivy League school, which she found less challenging than our shared college. After I earned my B.A., I immediately went to graduate school at a university whose tuition costs were nearly twice as much as my undergraduate tuition. Were I to evaluate the education I received at both schools, I would grade my “value school” about ten times better than my pricier graduate degree.
Going to a value college had additional financial benefits besides the low tuition and excellent education. With its emphasis on low cost, my alma mater appealed to students whose family incomes were lower than those of students at many other colleges and universities. Few students came wearing expensive clothes or carrying the latest gadgets; I did not feel pressure to spend in order to fit in with my peers. On the contrary, some of my friends thought I was extravagant if I went out to eat because I was wasting the money already spent on my twenty-meal-per-week meal plan.
In keeping with its emphasis on low costs, the college itself offered many affordable on-campus activities, such as dances, $2 movies, and countless extra-curricular clubs and organizations. When I wasn’t studying, I always had plenty to do, mostly for free. Plus I didn’t have to use gas to go off campus for entertainment.
All in all, choosing a value college was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Though I realize that college experiences vary from school to school and person to person, going to a value school definitely paid off for me. My parents (who paid for my tuition) saved on fees; I learned how to enjoy myself without spending a lot of money, a habit that still benefits me today. If you are looking for a college or university, I highly recommend looking at schools on a list of “best values.” As with other major purchases, finding a balance of price and quality in education is often better than considering price alone.