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Busting the Myths: Florida's Private Colleges Might Surprise You

December 19, 2013 - 6:00pm

A postsecondary education is one of the best investments a person can make. Data available prove education creates a lifetime of opportunity and potential for success. People in the workforce, on average, earn almost twice as much with a bachelors degree than those with only a high school diploma. The pursuit of knowledge pays off!

Floridas not-for-profit private colleges and universities have always had a reputation for providing students with excellent learning opportunities and encouraging higher-level achievement. These private institutions also face challenges due to the common misconception that independent postsecondary schools were accessible only by the well-heeled families and their children. The man on the street mistakenly thinks private infers too costly. That could not be further from the truth. Unfortunately, this mistaken belief causes many potential students to disregard a valuable opportunity for an outstanding education.

Private, not-for-profit education may actually be more affordable than ever before. Over the past four years, private colleges in the U.S. have slowed annual tuition increases to the lowest rates seen in at least four decades. A recent study showed that these institutions had the lowest rate of tuition increase when compared to public institutions and to for-profit institutions.

In addition, at Floridas Independent Colleges and Universities, which are members of ICUF, 44 percent of their students receive federal Pell Grants, as opposed to 41 percent of students in the State University System. Students at private institutions are also more likely to graduate earlier than their peers at public universities, potentially saving thousands by avoiding extra semesters in school and also getting them out into the workplace sooner. ICUF member schools work hard to create opportunities for students from all family income levels. In eight ICUF institutions, more than 70 percent of their applicants come from families earning less than $60,000 a year. Additionally the state of Florida provides a yearly Florida Resident Access Grant for resident students attending one of these schools, helping to make access affordable, too.

We cannot have an honest conversation about tuition without also addressing student debt. There is some debunking to be done here, as well. If you have seen any higher education news this year, it is likely that youve heard about students fears of incurring exorbitant loan debt this apprehension is all too common, but also misplaced. The reality is, the vast majority of Florida students have manageable loan levels after receiving their degrees from both public and private colleges and universities. Many graduate with little or no debt at all. Average debt per borrower among U.S. students who earned bachelors degrees from private universities in 2011 was $29,900 as compared to $23,800 for public university graduates -- about a $500 difference per semester over four years. With steady tuitions, more grant awards, a shorter graduation timeline, and comparable graduate debt, modern private colleges and universities have shown how hard they work with students to keep education affordable. Also missing from this discussion is that the costs of living for four or more years add greatly to the college expense. It is not just tuition; it is housing, food, transportation, insurance and myriad other costs that students must bear in order to get an education. Inflation has been the greater threat to costs for these students. Graduating early, or at worst on-time, means savings!

Another discouraging misconception concerning private institutions involves the diversity of the student population. Contrary to popular belief, many older, working, and part-time students attend independent postsecondary institutions, comprising more than a quarter of the student population. Private and public institutions both foster a multicultural and socially diverse student body. When comparing nonprofit public and private universities in Florida, eight of the top 10 schools with the highest minority populations are ICUF members.

Additionally, Florida private colleges are now offering more than 320 fully-online degree programs. We have expanded hybrid programs, three-year degrees, satellite campuses, and evening class offerings. Floridas ICUF members have long held a statewide 2+2 transfer agreement with our state colleges.

All too often the public perception of private nonprofit education does not represent the reality. Modern independent universities are both affordable and accessible to students from all backgrounds. They foster innovative and flexible education plans, as well as ensure cultural and economic student diversity. Private institutions represent an enormous opportunity for any student seeking access to success. I encourage college-bound students to follow their dreams and make sure they have the best information available to make the most informed decision about their college career. Go to www.ICUF.ORG for links to 31 great Florida institutions.

Dr. Ed Moore is president and CEO of Floridas Independent Colleges and Universities.

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