Rising tuition prices affecting students’ college choices

By Taylor Dixon
And Brandi Cadette

Choosing which college is the best fit is tough. Tough because impacts your future. With the cost of higher education said to be on the rise, you’re not just choosing a brand name for your diploma – you’re choosing how much debt you may carry after graduation.
The choice isn’t easy.

Although many factors come into play when selecting a college, including location and size, local tutor Rachael Fineske, a 2000 alumna, said she chose to attend Baylor because of her religious background her family’s influence.

“My parents weren’t as concerned about price as much as my happiness,” Fineske said. “Their main concern was my walk with the Lord and they let me make my decision based on that.”

For some, making a college decision can be stressful.

“It’s like choosing a shampoo at the store,” Fineske said. “There’s no doubt that each option will clean your hair, but what else will it do, and how will it affect each person’s hair individually? The choice can be overwhelming. Does the large Costco-size bottle seem most practical, or the smaller more specialized boutique option? Making an informed decision is difficult with so many options. Choosing a college is similar.”

But while a bottle of shampoo can cost less than $5, the price of a university education, which can total in thousands, has the potential to impact the lives of students well into their future.

For example, the base cost of undergraduate tuition at Baylor, $30,586 for the 2012-2013 school year, has risen $1,866 from the previous year, according to the student financial services website.

Terrell Brown, a high school senior in Fresno, said he couldn’t attend his first choice college —Baylor —due to the cost of its tuition.

“I had my heart set on coming to Baylor ever since I can remember, but because tuition is so high and they didn’t offer me the best scholarship, I signed for Houston Baptist University to play football instead,” Brown said.

Though disappointed at first, Brown appreciates the ability to graduate without debt. On a full-ride to HBU for football, Brown says he gets to do what he loves and still attend a school with strong Baptist values.

Others come, but don’t stay.

Sabrina Gonzales, a junior at McLennan Community College from San Antonio, attended Baylor for her freshman and sophomore years. Gonzalez cited cost as one of the reasons she switched schools.

MCC offers an accelerated nursing program that is shorter in duration and less expensive than Baylor’s. Baylor’s nursing program takes four years while MCC’s takes only two.

“It’s nice being able to avoid the downward debt spiral by attending MCC, and I’m sure my family appreciates it too,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales will graduate debt-free. Her mother has supported her financially since the beginning of her college career.

“I just feel so lucky to have such a supportive family behind me,” Gonzales said. “All I have to do is focus on my studies. Not having to work or worry about how I’m going to pay for school is such a blessing.”

High tuition can force some to look at sources for financial aid that may lead to debt after college. The choice Fineske made to attend Baylor resulted in debt. As a working mother of three, Fineske continues to pay off student loans she and her husband Chad, a 1997 alumnus, have accumulated from attending Baylor.

Although their parents helped with a fraction of their tuitions, getting involved in club lacrosse for Rachael and Kappa Omega Tau for Chad resulted in additional fees.

“Debt has been something we’ve managed to slowly chip away at each year,” Fineske said. “Although it’s not always easy, we wouldn’t change the education and experiences we got out of Baylor for anything.”

However, some manage to pay by using scholarships. Scholarship money can offset debt that students will graduate with, making college more affordable.

Such is the case for students like Sugar Land junior Lexi Luckenbill.

She is on an academic full-ride scholarship, contingent on maintaining a grade point average of a 3.5 or higher.

As an accounting major and business fellow, Luckenbill said she expects Baylor’s name to enhance her career later.

“I work hard because I know how valuable my degree will be from such a prestigious school like Baylor,” Luckenbill said. “I consider myself extremely lucky to be here.”

Luckenbill isn’t alone. 90 percent of undergraduate students at Baylor receive some sort of financial assistance, according to the student financial services website.

Others choose cheaper schools.

Patrick Buckley, a junior from Needville, attends Sam Houston State University.

The cost of undergraduate base tuition for the 2012-2013 school year at Sam Houston State University is $6,608, which is $23,978 less than Baylor tuition.

Buckley, who has lived in Texas his entire life, chose an in-state school that he believed fit his needs, including tuition cost and size.

“Just because I don’t go to some fancy school doesn’t mean I’m not getting a great education and experience,” Buckley said. “I can’t imagine going anywhere else but here.”

Buckley said that aside from just tuition cost, he chose his school based on the culture of the student body.

He said the name of the school wasn’t as important as the people he’d be surrounding himself with.

The cost of education across the board is said to be increasing. Since 1986 education costs have increased by over 104 percent. Growing at an average rate of 4.8 percent a year, tuition costs are at an all-time high according to money.cnn.com.

The value of a college degree offsets the price of tuition when entering the workplace. Knowledge and resources gained from a college experience through classes and networking are a valuable asset when entering the job market.

“Students who do not apply to a program they believe fits their educational needs and goals because of a price tag may be missing out on scholarship opportunities,” said Bradley Toben, dean and M.C. & Mattie Caston Professor of Law at Baylor University School of Law.

Toben says he sees the importance of attending the school you want to graduate from and believes that is a reason increasing tuition does not lower the amount of incoming students at a more pricey university such as Baylor.

Texas has a vast selection of different college options. Private and public universities litter the Lone Star State with opportunities for each kind of student.

Whether it’s Baylor University, Sam Houston State University or McLennan Community College, the higher education opportunities are endless.

“In the end I’m glad I chose Baylor,” Fineske said. “I met my husband, got a great degree, and was encouraged in my walk with the Lord. Looking back, debt or no debt, I wouldn’t have changed my college choice. I bleed green and gold.”