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Sunday, April 15, 2018 1:00 am

Officials at IPFW see fault in cost rankings

Believe formula ignores students living at home

RON SHAWGO | The Journal Gazette

IPFW is relatively inexpensive for students with financial aid but ranks high among Indiana's 16 public colleges in student debt.

As for bang for the buck, IPFW ranks progressively lower in salaries students earn one, five and 10 years after graduation, according to a new state report.

IPFW administrators take issue with the way student costs are calculated in the study, saying the school is at a disadvantage largely because of the kind of housing it offers. They also find fault with the salaries formula, which shows IPFW graduates earning less in the future than their counterparts at other schools.

Jeffrey Malanson, presiding officer of the IPFW faculty senate, agrees such reports don't reflect the experiences of all students.

“The annual cost calculations do not factor in students who choose to live at home with their parents to save money, which is something that you see happening much more frequently at regional campuses than at main campuses,” he said in an email. “This potentially overstates the average annual costs of attendance for some universities (such as IPFW) as a result.”

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education's 2018 Return on Investment report comes as IPFW concludes its 54-year run July 1, when Indiana and Purdue universities officially end their management agreement for the school. The report is intended to help students and their families decide on schools based on cost, employment opportunities and potential salary.

The data include only Indiana college graduates employed in-state. They do not include those employed in other states, in small businesses, the federal government, or students with debt and no degree.

Jessica Nejad, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the report notes the cost of college can be influenced by a variety of factors, including years it takes to get a degree and where students choose to live.

“For the average student, the payoff from college is certainly worth it,” she said in an email. “However, students should be aware of all potential costs; tuition and fees are not the only costs that students face.” 

The report, which uses education cost figures from 2014-15, touts the value of a college education.

“The increased earnings of a degree more than exceed the total costs of college, including debt, for most students within only a few years after graduation,” it states.

Most college credentials pay for themselves within a few years, and graduate lifetime earnings often outweigh those with only a high school diploma by $1 million or more, according to the report.

Numbers crunch

Among the 16 public colleges, IPFW ranked sixth in annual cost of attendance before financial aid was considered ($21,591) and 10th after aid was included ($9,871). Ivy Tech Community College was least expensive overall; IU (Bloomington) was most expensive.

In response to a Journal Gazette request for comment about the findings, IPFW released a statement last week by Carl Drummond, vice chancellor for financial affairs and enrollment management; Kristina Creager, associate vice chancellor for student success and director of financial aid; and Nicole Hahn, public relations specialist.

The cost of attendance, or COA, formula is based on students living on campus. IPFW offers apartments, which are more costly than traditional dorms, according to the statement. IPFW compares favorably to schools with similar housing, such as Ball State University, the release states. Housing and food at IPFW for 2018-19 cost $9,242 compared to $12,226 at Ball State for similar room and board, according to the statement.

“Given the discrepancies in COA and the individual variances based on the type of institution, the best data for student and parents to compare are the fixed costs of tuition and fees,” the release states. “All other costs in the estimated COA, like housing, food intake, and type of transportation, are subject to student choice.”

IPFW ranks sixth in tuition – $8,330 for 2017-18.

IPFW's average graduate debt of $29,549 was third, after IU Northwest and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. IPFW also ranked third in students with debt at graduation (77 percent), after IU East and IU Kokomo.

“Average debt upon graduation says as much about the socioeconomic status of the students entering the institution as it does anything about the institution itself,” Malanson said.

Perhaps most notable is IPFW students' return on investment. Median annual salary for popular majors a year after graduation ranks IPFW ninth ($30,062), or near the middle, among the 16 colleges. The school's rank falls to 13th after 10 years – $10,420 less than top-ranked Purdue (West Lafayette), which has a $55,467 median salary after a decade.

The mix of popular majors differs by institution, so the median salaries “will be skewed by variations in the mixes,” Drummond said in a separate email. “We also note that the loss of nursing to IU will change our mix and will likely bring our average salary down slightly.”

Indiana University and Purdue University trustees approved an agreement that establishes two institutions beginning July 1. IU will have a lower profile and focus on health sciences, including nursing, as Indiana University Fort Wayne. Purdue will handle all other academic programs and become Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Malanson said he also expects the school's average salaries to go down after IU and Purdue separate.

“Our largest major is nursing, which has a high average salary,” he said. “PFW will not have a nursing program, and its average salary metrics will be negatively impacted as a result.”

Return on investment

Annual costs to attend Indiana public colleges based on 2014-15 figures:

Annual cost Cost after financial aid Average debt at graduation Students with debt at graduation Salary one year* Salary five years* Salary 10 years*
Ball State University
$22,780 $12,847 $27,113 74.1% $28,545 $39,646 $47,074
Indiana State University
$20,933 $10,894 $26,997 76.4% $32,106 $38,697 $46,030
Indiana University Bloomington
$24,417 $13,289 $26,547 58.5% $28,721 $39,957 $50,786
Indiana University East
$20,203 $8,453 $25,760 82.4% $30,952 $33,194 $43,565
Indiana University Kokomo
$20,113 $8,566 $24,440 77.9% $31,272 $35,733 $41,322
Indiana University Northwest
$19,340 $6,992 $31,117 72.4% $31,688 $40,199 $45,522
Indiana University South Bend
$19,271 $9,296 $29,267 76.8% $30,600 $37,418 $42,021
Indiana University Southeast
$19,829 $10,690 $25,796 62.3% $29,509 $39,966 $48,540
$21,591 $9,871 $29,549 77.0% $30,062 $37,588 $45,047
$21,985 $10,740 $30,030 75.3% $30,523 $40,499 $49,636
Ivy Tech Community College
$15,113 $6,416 $16,866 42.1% $26,451 $34,088 $46,944
Purdue Northwest Hammond
$21,515 $10,445 $28,116 72.7% $28,257 $37,195 $48,405
Purdue Northwest Westville
$22,841 $7,460 $24,505 72.8% $31,750 $44,231 $52,395
Purdue West Lafayette
$23,002 $11,643 $25,769 59.6% $32,867 $46,020 $55,467
University of Southern Indiana
$18,212 $11,179 $22,716 65.9% $28,769 $36,603 $49,306
Vincennes University
$18,278 $10,235 $17,530 64.6% $28,028 $39,446 $46,100

* Median salary of the most popular programs one year, five years and 10 years after graduation

Source: Indiana Commission for Higher Education