Opinion

July 28, 2013

John O. Schwenn: Why affordability is important

How do you know when you’ve attained the American Dream? No matter how you define the dream, I’m sure it includes something about prosperity and the ability to provide for self and family. The drive to be self-sufficient has motivated us since the colonies were settled more than 400 years ago.

Many consider college education to being essential to achieving the American Dream, but student loan debt can have the effect of an anvil around the neck for the freshly minted college graduate trying to make it in the world.

Access to college education has always been critical to the mission of Dalton State College. It is the reason we are here. This month we recognize the 50th anniversary of the signing of the charter that created Dalton Junior College as a point of access to the University System of Georgia for the residents of northwest Georgia.

More than half of our students represent the first generation in their family to go to college. An attribute common among many first generation students is that they will not leave home to go away to school, so if we were not here, these students could very well never receive a college education.

We know that proximity to home is important to access, but no less so is affordability. Many first generation students come from working class families with limited financial resources for higher education. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average cost to attend a four-year college is $10,863; the price tag at Dalton State is less than half that. For the 2011-2012 academic year (the most recent year for which figures are available), the average net price to attend Dalton State for a year was $3,776, which is the amount paid out of pocket after financial aid and scholarships. The net price covers expenses including tuition, fees, books, supplies and the weighted average for room, board and transportation.

In addition to being a low-cost provider of higher education, Dalton State has also been named a “Low Debt School” by the Institute for College Access and Success. Students graduating from a low-debt school are good for the economy because instead of paying down a large student loan debt, they have dollars available to buy cars and houses and expand their families.

On the other hand, graduates saddled with massive debt may wait longer to marry, start families or buy homes as more of their dollars are funneled to paying down student loan debt.

Do you know the significance of the number 1955 to Dalton State? No, it’s not the year we were chartered (that was 1963), nor is it our street number on College Drive (650). It is the cost of tuition and fees per semester for an in-state student taking 15 hours at Dalton State this upcoming academic year. That’s less than $4,000 for the year. At that price, a student will receive instruction from professional faculty (no teaching assistants), in small classes (average size: 26), from an institution that is home to outstanding faculty, including the current U.S. Professor of the Year (Christy Price), and will be part of the historic return of Roadrunner basketball.

For these and many other reasons, we think that a Dalton State education is an unparalleled value in higher education.

John O. Schwenn is the president of Dalton State College.

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