Northern VA pays teachers more than Central VA, and Tidewater pays only a little more than the Richmond area. Also, just because one graduates from VCU doesn't mean s/he has to stay in central VA to make a living - but I think that is part of the problem. First generation college students saddled with debt will probably stay close to home (I'm making a lot of assumptions here about VCU's student body).
Also, it's not as much of a reflection on the cost of VCU as the cost combined with a student body that must borrow and pay back the loan with interest. The study analyzes the ROI (Return On Investment) - which includes annual earnings MINUS the cost the graduate pays back on loans [this number is calculated by the average student loan debt from that university].
It's no secret that at many “elite” schools, many parents pay their kids' tuition thus those students don't have much debt (if any) and get to keep more of their paycheck when they graduate. So, if we didn't consider student debt, only earnings, VCU's BA in education very well could be lucrative. You can play with the numbers yourself on PayScale's Website.
|Tution by Semester|
Regarding questions about VCU's cost relative to other VA colleges, VCU's undergrad tuition this year is $10,299.46, which is about the same but slightly more than UVA's $10,016 (which according to The Atlantic: “For the best dollar-for-dollar investment, nothing beats the University of Virginia”). It's important to note that UVA has a large endowment that allows it to keep tuition low, whereas VCU relies more heavily on tuition dollars to fund its activities.
Also, the study did not take into account the new income based repayment plans and public service federal loan forgiveness available to teachers – BUT those programs are not guaranteed. In his new budget, Obama wants to extend the duration of public service required for forgiveness from 10 to 25 years (and some other stuff) – the first cohort of students would qualify for the forgiveness in 2017; thus, no one so far has actually benefited from this program.
I don't think VCU has done anything wrong; it is dealing with the same market forces as other institutions, but I do find the study disturbing. Why is this not the first thing on VCU Admin's agenda? Who cares about “Research One” or US News and World Report Rankings if you're graduating students who would be financially better off with a high-school diploma than a degree from your university? Can part of the school's Quest for Distinction be to become a model for providing an excellent education at an affordable cost?
There aren't easy answers to this, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to find solutions. In addition to traditional efforts such as cutting budgets and lobbying the legislature for more state funding, here are some models we can look to for inspiration:
Access UVA (institutional level) – Guarantees to meet 100% of the financial need of students admitted to the university (need as measured by the FAFSA – not a great instrument IMHO, but it's something). VCU's student body is larger and likely to have more need than UVA's, but could VCU commit to helping meet the need of students? Could it pool resources to offer its own subsidized loans or offer other, new forms of financial aid to meet the needs of its students?
Michigan's Pay It Forward Bill (state level) – This Bill would allow students from households with less than $250,000 income to attend a state university for “free” while in college and pay back a percentage of their income for 25 years once they graduate. There are still details to work out such as if a student repays his/her cost of attendance before the 25 years are up, should they have to continue paying? Regardless, the proposed payback of 2% for community college and 4% for university graduates is MUCH better than the federal income based repayment plan of 10%.
Strike the Debt Movement (national level) – Medical bills are the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the US and healthcare debt is traded for pennies on the dollar on Wall Street. For $400,000, Rolling Jubilee was able to buy and forgive $14,734,569.87 of medical debt. That's more than 36 X the initial investment of $400K. Unlike medical debt, student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and thus are even MORE odious than medical debt. Also, in the past, student loans were not often traded on the stock market, but they are becoming more popular. Given that more than 1 in 3 borrowers under 30 years old is at least 90 days delinquent in student loan payments (a number that continues to increase every year), it seems we will need some type of debt forgiveness in addition to the income based repayment plans (which only forgive Federal, not private loans).
In addition to ethical reasons, VCU should be concerned about its students' debt because of new proposals that will tie institutions' ability to receive Federal dollars to their graduates' “loan debt” and “employment outcomes.”
I'm sure there are other inspirational initiatives out there - if you know of them, please share! :-)