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Editorial columns

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Colleges united for affordability

Ask parents if they want their children to go to college, and you will almost always get a “yes.”

However, that “yes” is often followed by a “but,” that “but” being a concern over college costs and student debt.

That’s something Indiana’s 31 private colleges and universities are concerned about, too, and working hard to control.

Several have frozen tuition, others have guaranteed the same tuition for all four years, and another has instituted a loan repayment assistance program. Most of our campuses have offered lower summer credit-hour rates for years and several now offer a cost-saving, formal three-year bachelor’s degree (with the others making it possible on an individual basis).

As individual state grants and other sources of financial assistance have declinedduring the recession, Indiana’s private colleges and universities have been rapidly moving to fill the gaps created by that loss by expanding the amount of institutional aid that they award students and families. From 2005-06 to 2009-10, our campuses have increased their institutional aid to students by 41 percent; in 2009-10 (the most current year for which data are available), it totaled more than $600 million.

Although efforts such as these are the ones that are most visible to the public, I want Indiana families to know that our colleges have also been aggressively pursuing internal efficiencies and cost savings that will play just as important a role – if not more – in controlling college costs over the long term.

For a decade now, our campuses have been collaborating on joint purchasing agreements, negotiating better prices based on larger volumes.

Last year alone, more than $10 million in total purchases flowed through such agreements.

That is just the start. More and exponentially larger types of cost-saving and productivity-enhancing collaborations are possible – and coming.

Just a few weeks ago, campuses consulted on ways to combat the rising costs of employee health benefits and the potential for pooling or group purchase of such services.

Some institutions have already been doing this in the area of risk management insurance, resulting in almost 50 percent savings in premiums over the past three years.

Another group of campuses is studying ways to share remote data storage and disaster recovery technology.

Others have begun to discuss the possibility of consolidating some non-student, non-classroom functions at one site to reduce overhead.

Independent colleges and universities exist at the will of their supporters – parents, students, donors, alumni and others – and are committed to continuing to focus our resources on making academic excellence and choice affordable for all Indiana families.

Richard L. Ludwick is the president & CEO of the Independent Colleges of Indiana. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.

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