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For Goshen College, providing high-quality education at lower costs is a tricky balance

Goshen College strikes delicate balance as it competes for students and works to keep costs down.

(Photo Supplied)

Posted on Sept. 1, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Sept. 1, 2014 at 10:31 a.m.

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) — Like other small, private colleges and universities across the state, Goshen College officials say they continue to compete for students while focusing on providing high-quality education at a lower out-of-pocket cost to students.

But doing so is a tricky balance, and one that college President Jim Brenneman said is part of a larger discussion on how to grow the college while staying true to the college’s traditions and beliefs.

“Our challenge continues to be recruiting the size of classes that we need to offset operations,” Brenneman told The Goshen News (http://bit.ly/1sp8ahG). “(That) includes providing nearly $10 million in financial aid, so as to keep a (Goshen College) education as affordable as possible, as flexible as need-be, as innovative as we can, and as fiscally strong as we must.”

The college’s total enrollment is expected to remain flat this year, with no significant increase or decrease from the 888 students enrolled last year, Brenneman said. Total enrollment figures include students enrolled in full-time and part-time undergraduate, adult and graduate programs, according to college data.

Those totals have been declining for the past five years, according to college data.

Enrollment at Goshen College peaked during the 1980-81 school year, when 1,210 full-time-equivalent students were enrolled, according to Scott Barge, director of institutional research.

Across the state, total college enrollment grew by nearly one third from 2001 to 2013, but the type of institution Hoosier students chose to attend has shifted, according to the Independent Colleges of Indiana.

In 2001, about 60 percent of the more than 324,000 college students attended four-year public institutions, while another 22 percent chose two-year public institutions. The remaining 18 percent of students selected a private college or university.

Last fall, four-year public institutions made up just over half of the more than 423,000 college students and two-year institutions grew to about 27 percent. Private colleges and universities grew to 22 percent.

There’s a delicate balance that must be met as the college seeks to stay competitive in the market while also maintaining a level of financial aid that makes it affordable for students to come to Goshen College, Brenneman explained.

According to college data, 99 percent of Goshen College students receive some type of financial aid by way of grants, scholarships, on-campus employment or other assistance. About 71 percent of undergraduate students live on campus.

The college was recently named the eighth most affordable college on the Great Value Colleges list of 25 private schools, with a net price of $19,773. Net price is the cost of tuition minus the average financial aid students receive, according to the list.

Without financial aid, the cost of tuition is approximately $26,900, college officials said.

And while other colleges, including public institutions, might boast a lesser “sticker price,” when financial aid and graduation rates are factored in, Goshen College students incur a smaller debt, Brenneman added.

“It is still the case that the average debt incurred at Goshen College for our students is less than the average debt of all other private colleges in Indiana, the public universities and the Big Ten,” he said. “That’s because of the scholarships we provide and because we have a high graduation rate — 71 percent in six years, compared to the national average of 54 percent.”

To stay competitive among other small, private colleges, Goshen College continues to offer personalized programs and experiences that students elsewhere might not be able to afford or participate in until they are older, such as hosting a radio show as a freshman, Brenneman said.

“Because we are smaller, our students get to participate and gain real-world experiences their first years, instead of having to wait until they are seniors,” Brenneman said.

Students are also not required to pay more than regular tuition for semesters spent abroad because a study-service term is part of the requirements for graduation.

“If we require our students to go that means we have to supplement it,” Brenneman said. “Our endowment keeps us in a good place in terms of asset to debt ratio ... but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to the point where we need the class sizes of students to keep things going.”

Bringing in students from different backgrounds without losing sight of the Goshen College tradition is also part of the key to success, Brenneman explained.

“It comes down to are we a distinct denominational college for only or primarily other students who are part of your faith tradition or are we a Mennonite college with all the core values of our heritage that is open to everyone?” he said. “... Our old model would have been to maintain that heritage by having 90 percent Mennonite students and 45 years ago that was the case.”

According to college data, the 2013-14 student body was about 48 percent Mennonite/Anabaptist.

The college is transforming into an institution that welcomes all students who share in the college’s longstanding values, but is dedicated to not losing sight of the Mennonite heritage that created it.

“On one hand, we want to grow and expand,” Brenneman said, “but on the other, we would never want to overlook any Mennonite students who might want to come to Goshen College.”

Information from: The Goshen News, http://www.goshennews.com


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