Colleges offer no-frills degrees
A less-expensive education is the appeal at stripped-down satellite campuses.
Kaileen Crane was hardly interested in the hefty price tag that comes with the traditional college experience. So she's paying $10,000 a year for the Advantage Program offered by Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), a private college.Skip to next paragraph
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Forget about campus housing. Or a meal plan, or a gym with a climbing wall. This program is about the basics – core courses at a bare-bones satellite campus. But the price is less than one-third of what it costs for tuition and room and board at the main campus in Manchester.
"It's close to where I live, it's close to where I work, and the cost is just so much cheaper than a lot of other places," says Ms. Crane during a break from classes in an office building in Salem.
Shopping for value is "in" these days – especially when it comes to big-ticket items like a college education. Public universities and community colleges traditionally have represented low-cost options. But now, some private colleges – and at least one state's public program – are trying to come up with cheaper pathways to a degree.
SNHU president Paul LeBlanc calls the Advantage Program a "low-cost airline equivalent" in higher education – "a high-quality academic experience, but not a whole lot else." Others liken it to an economy car or a meat-and-potatoes meal.
If a substantial number of colleges were to offer no-frills options like SNHU's, "they'd make a huge step in tackling the root causes of the cost problem," says Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Cost Project in Washington, which analyzes higher-education spending.
Other schools haven't yet adopted SNHU's model, but it's being watched closely. Meanwhile, a number of private colleges are promoting other affordable options, in addition to boosting financial aid. Neighboring Daniel Webster College in Nashua hopes to attract recent high school graduates who are willing to commute by offering them tuition at nearly half price. Some institutions are creating partnerships with community colleges to smooth the transfer of credits. Others are making it easier to earn a bachelor's degree in three years, saving students 25 percent. And a handful have announced that for students who meet certain criteria, tuition for 2009-10 will equal the cost of nearby public colleges.
"We are entering a period of unmatched innovation," says David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
The Pennsylvania State Board of Education recently offered ideas for reining in costs, including the possibility of a no-frills public-college alternative. Pennsylvania's public-education price tag is the sixth-highest in the US, according to a state report. And the level of graduates' debt ranked sixth as well, averaging nearly $24,000.