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Calculating the Value of a Public Education When Student Services Suffer Cutbacks

Students and parents are looking for value in higher education, and generally most families see their state colleges and universities as providing the greatest value for the price.

But with public, taxpayer support for higher education declining with the recession, families may have to recalculate their understanding of value.

An article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) describes the cuts in student services that will have a detrimental impact on the student experience at public colleges and universities.  Of course, most institutions of higher ed want to protect these front-line services, because they know that such services help them to retain and support students through graduation.

But student-affairs divisions are still taking their share of cuts. As a result, she says, staff members are reporting concerns about negative effects on their campuses. They expect fewer face-to-face interactions with students, less progress on new projects, and slower response rates to students’ requests. Staff members also anticipate higher stress levels, increased workloads, and anxiety about further layoffs.

So what is a prospective student to do?  Inquire. Ask about cutbacks and layoffs.  Visit the student affairs office, the financial aid office, the freshman dean’s office.  Ask how the economic crunch has had an impact on that campus. Talk to other students and ask about how easy it is to get good academic advice, or how long the lines are at the financial aid office, or whether the clubs they belong to are getting sufficient financial support from the university.

The fact is that the economic crunch is having an impact on all campuses, public and private.  And it behooves savvy consumers of higher education services to know exactly how budget cuts will affect their educational experience.

Further, it may make sense, given the economy, to consider private colleges and universities.  While no college has gone through the economic downturn unscathed, some have been better able than others to protect student services budgets (as well as financial aid and faculty salaries).  After all, value is a function of both the quality of the service and the price, and you may find–as with so many other things in life–that you get what you pay for.

Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant

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