The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, February 12, 2019 1:00 am

Independent thought

Private colleges prove worth of their public investment

Bill Katip

Is higher education worth it?

It's a question our society is trying valiantly to answer. How we answer has many implications, including to our state budget.

Among the evidence to consider are new studies – one of which my institution took part in – that examine the impact of colleges and universities, and the expectations of employers concerning them.

The Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy at Northeastern University released a report in December on the use and value of educational credentials in hiring. It showed that employers value educational credentials more (48 percent of respondents) or the same (29 percent) as they did five years ago. Nearly half of employers said an increased level of education is preferred or required for the same jobs as compared to five years ago, and a majority believe the demand for educational credentials will grow.

Last year, Grace College and the other 29 institutions that comprise Independent Colleges of Indiana were part of an economic impact study to evaluate the benefit our schools bring to the state in real dollars. The results were more than encouraging. Collectively, we contribute more than $5.5 billion per year to the state's economy. Grace College's individual impact is valued at nearly $84 million, including $41.5 million in direct expenditures.

These financial contributions to our state are significant on their own, but when evaluated in light of the state's investment in our students, they are even more impressive. Indiana taxpayers support independent college students with about $4,700 per bachelor's degree. At the same time, they pay about $42,500 (nine times more) for each public college degree. When you consider that private college students receive less than 4 percent of the state's higher education budget, yet independent institutions produce nearly a third of Indiana's college graduates, that's a tremendous return on taxpayers' investment.

I also know of the personal impact our institution has on so many students who didn't think they could afford college. Most people are surprised to learn that more than a quarter of Grace undergrads receive need-based state aid, and 99 percent of our students receive some institutional financial aid.

Students such as Martin Schiele are inspirational. A sophomore from Hammond, Schiele is the first in his family to pursue a bachelor's degree – and as he's quick to add – a master's, too. He is a member of Grace's basketball and track teams, chapel board and band. He's become a thought leader on campus, known for his outspoken optimism and encouragement for others. His success and impact at Grace are possible because of an athletic scholarship and other institutional aid.

Another little-known fact is that independent colleges produce, by far, the state's highest four-year, on-time graduation rates. At Grace College, about 65 percent of students graduate in four years, compared to 38.5 percent of all Hoosier students. What's more, this figure is nearly unchanged when measuring on-time graduation of 21st Century Scholars (62.5 percent graduate in four years at Grace).

At independent schools such as Grace, small class sizes and student population lead to real relationships between professors and students. Grace faculty not only teach, they mentor students. They challenge both students' knowledge and their character.

Grace College is centered on a connected community. Hallmarks of the Grace College experience are service to others and personal growth – including academic, spiritual and relational. Our students are taught to think critically, examine evidence and practice empathy. When students leave Grace, they are not just ready for the job market – they are ready to make an impact.

Ryan and Neena (Kishan) Burgher are such alumni. Ryan is a project specialist at Zimmer Biomet and Neena is a fifth-grade teacher in Warsaw Community Schools. About seven years ago, they combined their passion for soccer (Ryan played at Grace) and their community to found AGAITAS – a free soccer camp for youth in Warsaw. The camp has exploded – 250 kids participated in soccer last summer alone. Baseball and basketball camps have been added to AGAITAS, allowing the Burghers and their team to serve hundreds of kids who otherwise couldn't afford a summer camp.

The Burghers are just one example of what Indiana's independent colleges produce: skilled, empathetic graduates prepared to make a difference in the world.

As the Indiana legislature considers the biennial budget, we hope members will look to the evidence of the value of higher education in our country and the unique contributions of independent colleges in our state. Students and families who desire the benefits of private institutions should continue to receive their reasonable share of Indiana's higher education budget. The results speak for themselves. 

Bill Katip is president of Grace College in Winona Lake.

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