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Students’ future must stay a budget priority

Gov. Mitch Daniels’ budget proposal has inspired much debate over which areas to cut and by how much. There is no surprise in this; our legislators are facing difficult choices with few financial bright spots on the horizon. I don’t envy the task they face in establishing our state’s two-year budget.

As president of Indiana Tech, I am most concerned with our state’s funding for higher education. Although Indiana Tech is a private university and therefore not directly affected by the cuts facing our colleagues at public institutions, our students often rely on need-based financial aid from the state to help them pursue their degrees. I am hopeful that these funds will be maintained as the budget negotiations continue.

In 2009, when economic times were arguably tougher, our state leaders took the bold step of increasing funding for student financial aid. Even so, Hoosier students had to make do with less aid than the year before because more people enrolled in our colleges and universities. With funds spread across a larger pool of applicants, the resulting effect was a reduction of 31 percent for students who chose a four-year college. An additional reduction of 7 percent came in 2010.

While I admit to being biased on behalf of Indiana Tech students, I am certainly not alone in my concern regarding our state’s financial aid resources. Indiana Tech is one of 31 institutions that make up the Independent Colleges of Indiana. In our local area we have Indiana Tech, the University of Saint Francis, Huntington University, Manchester College and Trine University, among others. Statewide, our 31 member institutions serve about 86,000 students. More than 90 percent of those students receive financial aid. Therefore, any cuts to the state’s financial aid funding will be detrimental to students at private colleges such as Indiana Tech.

Why should taxpayers care about students at private colleges? Because private colleges produce the results that citizens and legislators alike are looking for: more degree completion and a lower cost to the state. If we agree that the flow of taxpayer dollars should be carefully scrutinized in some fashion similar to return on investment, then ICI schools perform at high levels. For example, Indiana’s private colleges enroll only 20 percent of the state’s undergraduates but award 35 percent of its bachelor’s degrees. Moreover, for each bachelor’s degree awarded at Indiana’s public universities, the cost to the state is more than $60,000; each bachelor’s degree earned at an ICI school costs the state just over $6,000 in financial aid.

While leaders of the state’s public universities will argue their need for more funding, rightfully so in most cases, I hope our legislators are mindful of the needs of those we all serve: our students. State funding for need-based financial aid is critical to helping Hoosier students achieve their goals for higher education and worthwhile careers. The budget allotment for state financial aid should not only be maintained but increased over time, giving students of today and tomorrow greater freedom of choice among public and private colleges. The result will be more Hoosiers completing bachelor’s degrees, a goal we can all agree on.

Arthur E. Snyder is president of Indiana Tech. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.