Affordability Is Key to Access
One attribute that has been essential to Dalton State’s mission since we first opened our doors in 1967 is access. The original College was created as a point of access to the University System of Georgia; today we are still an access institution to a college education and all the privileges and benefits that entails. And we think those are considerable.
A significant obstacle to access can be cost. What good is a nearby college with broad admission criteria if you cannot pay the tuition and fees to go there? For this reason, keeping Dalton State affordable to our students and prospective students is as essential to us as is the fact that we are accessible geographically and scholastically.
We hear repeatedly from students that initial decisions to attend Dalton State are often based on proximity and affordability. For our first generation college students, those students who are the first in their family to go to college (59 percent of the freshman class beginning fall 2010), those factors seem to be even more significant.
Access plus affordability is a formula that works for us and brought nearly 6,000 students to our campus last fall – 37 percent more students than in 2006 and more than 1,000 new students in just the last two years. More students require more faculty and more advisors and more support services, but at the same time that we’re experiencing explosive growth, we’re also struggling with diminished support from the state.
This year was particularly harsh. We lost just over a million dollars in budget cuts and stimulus funds. More painful for us was the loss of “formula funding” which has historically been allocated to schools based on factors such as enrollment growth; we stood to receive between $1.5 and $2 million. We don’t expect next year to be better.
Over the past four years, the state allocation portion of our annual budget has gone from approximately 70 percent to roughly 50 percent, and our state funding per student is now at the same level it was in 1994.
The difference between the cost to deliver college education and the allocation from the state is made up, of course, with tuition and fees. The Board of Regents sets the tuition rate and also imposes an institutional fee which is not computed into the HOPE Scholarship formula. Individual institutions can then add other fees which are unique to their schools. These cover programs and services such as student life, technology, athletics, parking, and others.
There is no question that college costs have been on an upward trajectory – nationally published tuition and fee rates at public colleges and universities have increased at an average rate of 5.6 percent per year beyond the rate of general inflation over the last decade (The College Board, “Trends in College Pricing”).
Tuition and fees at Dalton State will rise $211 (from $1,600 to $1,811) per semester in the next academic year. That said, I want to assure you that a Dalton State College education is still an incredible bargain, and we believe we are keeping college education accessible for most families.
A year’s education at Dalton State (an estimated 30 academic hours) will cost a family $3,622 next year, not including housing. When you take into consideration our small class sizes and the fact that all classes are taught by professional faculty (no graduate Teaching Assistants), we believe we offer a terrific deal; in fact, I challenge you to find a more affordable bachelor’s degree program anywhere in the country. There won’t be many.
We know that taxpayers and society as a whole derive a multitude of direct and indirect benefits when citizens have access to postsecondary education (The College Board, “Education Pays 2010”). Not only do college graduates earn more, they’re also less likely to be unemployed. They contribute more in tax revenues and require less in income support programs; they’re more likely to be insured, live healthier lifestyles, be more engaged in the life of their children, volunteer, and contribute actively to community life.
We believe that the benefits of a college degree more than outweigh the investment, and we’re proud that we’re keeping college education within the economic grasp of most families. We think it’s absolutely essential to our mission as an access institution.