Recruit & Retain (University of Bridgeport)

Making the American Dream More Affordable

University of BridgeportIt’s the new American dream. With high school graduation on the horizon, a student applies to colleges, (hopefully) gets accepted into his or her top-ranked school, selects a major, studies — and, let’s be honest, socializes — his or her way through four years of higher education in an effort to graduate with a high GPA, land a good job, earn a living and make it in the “real” world. One thing that’s not factored into the plan? Struggling with student debt for years to come.

Though there are many things that play into choosing a college — location, size, athletics, program of study, etc. — cost remains one of the most important deciding factors. It’s no secret that there is a giant student debt crisis sweeping the nation. Just turn on any news station and you’ll hear about it. According to the Federal Reserve, total education debt reached a whopping $1.3 trillion in 2015 — and it’s only getting worse. This growing concern is often forcing students to pick the cheapest path to a college degree, as opposed to selecting the school that is the best fit for them individually.

This means that a private education — typically carrying a higher price tag than studying at a public university — can seem out of reach for some, even though it boasts many benefits. Private institutions tend to offer smaller class sizes, more personal attention from full-time faculty, career-oriented courses, advanced technology and research, and extensive learning resources. Unfortunately, many students feel they aren’t able to even consider a private school based solely on price.

However, even a public education is becoming increasingly expensive. In Connecticut, a proposal to raise the cost of tuition at state schools was recently approved, enhancing the debt issue for in-state students. At the University of Bridgeport (UB) in Connecticut, we understand the risk that higher education debt poses to students. As a private institution, we are working to combat the assumption that a private education automatically equates to more dollar signs.

Neil Albert Salonen, the president at UB, has helped us to find a way to address these issues by recently instituting the Connecticut Promise. Under the Connecticut Promise program, UB guarantees that Connecticut residents who are first-time, full-time freshmen will pay no more than $18,500 out-of-pocket for tuition, fees, and room and board after all scholarships and grants have been applied. Prior to the launch of this program, UB was already awarding scholarships and grants to roughly 96 percent of students. Now, with the addition of the Connecticut Promise, UB is gifting students from Connecticut on average an additional $4,500 in assistance to bring the educational cost down even more. In-state commuting freshman not living on UB’s campus are required to pay even less out-of-pocket — no more than $12,000 a year.

The Connecticut Promise gives new freshmen students a significant break in price at UB and allows them to take advantage of the school’s state-of-the-art, career-focused curriculum, including programs in the health sciences, design, education and engineering. It also offers a diverse learning environment. U.S. News & World Report ranked UB as one of the most diverse universities in the country, giving students the opportunity to learn alongside classmates from over 46 states and 80 countries. In fact, Bridgeport has been named one of the country’s top cities for students to attend college by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER).

Since the Connecticut Promise is in effect for incoming freshman beginning Fall 2016, we have not yet determined the program’s success in recruiting new students. However, the feedback so far has been positive and encouraging. We have found potential students and their families to be very receptive to the fact that the University of Bridgeport is striving to make a private, first-rate education as accessible and affordable as possible. Hopefully, more schools will follow suit and we can begin to reverse the national education debt crisis and ensure that more students are able to achieve both a college degree and the new American Dream — without the lingering financial burden.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Karissa Peckham is the associate vice president for enrollment at the University of Bridgeport.

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