Those who plan to attend a community college can expect to save thousands and in some instances tens of thousands of dollars in tuition costs per year.
The Missourian recently compared costs of public and private institutions to the cost of tuition at East Central College and spoke with Dr. Jon Bauer, ECC president about the rising cost of college tuition.
All estimates are the most recent data available.
On average, an in-district student attending East Central College can expect to spend between $2,200 and $2,800 per year in tuition and mandatory fees if they attend full time (12 to 15 hours).
The tuition fees do not include the cost of books, lab or special course fees; however, book fees are fairly constant across institutions because many of the same publishers are used.
“The big difference (in cost) is for room and board. Most of our students are living at home, either with their parents or as working adults with their own homes,” Bauer said. “For many, going away to college also means living away.”
Bauer said a book cost estimate at ECC is about $1,000 per year.
While tuition at public four-year colleges is lower than at private colleges, it’s still significantly more expensive than at a community college.
Tuition only at the University of Missouri-Columbia for a Missouri resident is $9,430 per year, and $22,822 for an out-of-state student.
Factoring in room and board, the estimate climbs to about $22,788 per year for a Missouri resident.
Tuition is lower at Missouri State, another public institute in the state. Missouri residents will pay $6,908 in tuition and fees per year, plus an additional $7,248 for room and board and about $1,000 for books and supplies — a total of $15,336 per year.
The cost of tuition alone at private Lindenwood University is higher than the average per year cost at a public university, at $14,800 for a full-time undergraduate resident. Factoring in other costs, the school estimates a student will spend $22,490 per year.
St. Louis University tuition is more than double Lindenwood’s tuition, at $36,090 for a full-time undergraduate student. The total estimated cost to attend the school per year is $48,034.
Bauer said there are several factors that contribute to the cost of higher education.
While he couldn’t speak for every sector in every part of the country, Bauer said cuts in state aid really put the pressure on colleges to look at tuition to get the revenue they need to operate.
“When you have a decrease in a major funding stream, you try to make your budget as lean as possible, but you want to make sure you’re delivering quality programs to students as they need and deserve,” Bauer said. “When state aid goes down, tuition goes up.”
Bauer noted that state aid at ECC has been decreasing for years, with allocations in 2001 at $5,846,048. In 2013, the college only received $4,743,220 in state aid.
“It’s going to be a long time before, if and when, we get back to that point,” Bauer said.
At the same time as state aid is decreasing, the cost of operation also is rising.
Even if a college isn’t growing in the number of students, the cost to provide services is rising through higher utility bills, payroll and other costs.
“Speaking as a community college president and looking at what other community colleges did, I think we’ve done a good job of minimizing and limiting those increases,” Bauer said.
When tuition is increased at ECC, Bauer said it’s a few dollars per credit hour.
“On a percentage basis it may look larger, but in absolute dollars we’re talking about a small amount of money,” he said. “We always want to couple our emphasis of affordability with an equal or greater emphasis on quality.”
Bauer said voters originally approved starting the college because they wanted to make the cost of college affordable for students, and while that’s important, it’s not the entire focus.
“Our students are well prepared when they transfer to another college or enter the work force,” Bauer said. “They learn from experienced faculty, many of whom have taught for many, many years and have honed their craft. They’re getting a terrific education that they can take beyond ECC into their first job, or next job and find themselves better off for having been here.”
Tuition at ECC also is lower than at other institutions because of the local tax base.
Bauer said it’s important for students to realize that the region has decided to help students by supporting the community college.
Grants and scholarships also help students who may be struggling with costs.
The average Pell grant is $4,000 for students who qualify, Bauer noted, which will cover the cost of attending ECC.
“Students who qualify for aid are able to make sure that aid goes as far as possible,” Bauer said. “Even though we’re very affordable and less costly than other institutions, we also realize that for many students and families, it’s still a hurdle to be able to afford the cost.”
Bauer said that about 90 percent of full-time students get some assistance with the cost of attending ECC, either through grants or scholarships
Many students attending junior college are able to work part time.
Bauer said another of the college’s missions is to make sure students are aware of resources when they’re considering college.