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The real cost of college tuition

By Jennifer Lassiter

As high school students around the county are cramming for exams and seniors are preparing for graduation, there’s only one thing lurking in the minds of parents and students…how are we going to afford college tuition?

Since the early 1980’s college tuition has been spiraling out of control, or so it seems. Public and private institutions in our own backyard have soared above the rate of inflation. This leaves many parents and students wondering what the real cost of tuition is and how are we going to pay for it?

The answer is not simple, but institutions have increased their financial aid programs substantially. Over the last five years, Milligan ‘s tuition rate has increased by 52 percent.David Mee , Vice President of Milligan college said, “Milligan’s financial aid program has grown around 226 percent per average student recipient during this same time period.”

ETSU has increased its tuition 46 percent over the last five years, but they too have increased their finical aid and scholarship programs, making college more affordable for lower income families.

A report based on the College Board’s Annual Survey showed that around 60 percent of undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid to help them afford college, but for one local family financial aid and scholarships just aren’t going to be enough.

Elizabethton High School graduate Frank Hardy has his parents, Patrick and Bo Hardy, to thank for their wise investment in EE savings bonds to help pay for his desire for a higher education. The investment over the last 15 years has provided the Hardys with around $5,000 a year to contribute to his college funds.

EE savings bonds are guaranteed by the United States government and are exempt from state and local taxes, and in the Hardys case, since the money is going for college education it’s exempt from federal taxes as well.

Frank Hardy, 18, is planning to attend Milligan College in the fall. Milligan is a private Christian institution. As a Christian college, Milligan encourages students and faculty to explore the intersections between faith and academic study.

Although there’s not one underlying factor that contributes to the “sticker-price” steadily increasing over the years. Each institution has its own separate budget.

In the private sector, for example Milligan, tuition dollars help cover the operating cost of the college, including staff and faculty salaries, building maintenance, and student services.

According to Lee Fierbaugh , Milligan Associate Vice President for Communications, students actually pay a portion of the true cost of their education at Milligan. The remaining balance is underwritten through a variety of scholarships, donations and other programs.

Milligan, a non-tax supported institution, receives funding from four main sources: tuition, private donations, grants and endowments. Tuition generally makes up around 65 percent of the university’s income each year.

Fierbaugh said, “The process of setting tuition and granting financial aid are both intricate processes, but we work very carefully and try to control costs while maintaining quality. We make good use of the resources that have been entrusted to us.”

Frank Hardy, who plays nose guard for the EHS football team, decided to attend Milligan because it is close to home and four of his best friends are currently enrolled there. Hardy also attends a nearby church where he feels he can continue his Christian lifestyle and further his education.

Hardy received the Milligan Grant and qualified for a Federal Stafford subsidized loan, which has to be paid back after his graduation from the university, but it is interest free.

Subsidized loans are need-based. The government pays interest on the loan while the students are in school, and sometimes a grace period before repayment begins. Federal Stafford Loans are the most common source of educational loans.

He will also be participating in a work study program. Combining all of his financial aids and loans, Hardy is still falling about $10,000 short of paying for his college tuition.

Frank’s mother, Bo Hardy, who also attended Milligan, is busy hunting for other scholarships that might be available. “Many of these scholarships are so specific it’s hard to qualify,” said Bo.

Most of the scholarships are designed to help students with exceptional grade point averages and low income parents.

“It’s hard to find scholarships for a B-student with a middle-class income family,” Bo stated.

Hardy and his parents will be attending Milligan’s orientation and financial aid workshop June 11-12 to hopefully shed some light on unclear subjects.

Hardy said, “College tuition is overpriced and I would one day like to see the transition to high school be more like the transition from junior high to high school.”

State-funded universities like East Tennessee State University (ETSU) base tuition cost on several factors. One in specific is by assembling what the state allocates them for that particular year. The other percentage comes from what students actually pay in tuition costs, grants and auxiliary services.

Faculty salaries play a role in rising expenses of education. Colleges today are paying for more goods and services they provide. To retain good faculty and attract qualified students, universities have no choice but to increase faculty size and salaries, and in the process they are also increasing tuition.

Levi McCleary, 17, is one of six valedictorians at Happy Valley High School this year. Wednesday, May 12, was his last day of classes, and he prepared his farewell speech for his fellow seniors and classmates for graduation last night. In the fall, McCleary plans to attend ETSU.

McCleary said, “My biggest fear about college is that I won’t be as successful as I was academically in high school.”

McCleary’s outstanding academic achievements will pay off in his college career. McCleary is graduating with a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) which qualifies him for scholarships. McCleary qualified for ETSU’s Academic Performance Scholarship.

ETSU’s Academic Performance Scholarship is for Tennessee residents only, and is based solely on academic performance. The scholarship provides $2,556 per year for four years.

McCleary’s high ACT scores qualified him for the General Assembly Merit Scholarship portion of the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship Program, which came into effect this year.

McCleary will also be involved with a work study program, where the money he makes will be debited directly into his ETSU account. Combined, his scholarships will cover his entire cost of tuition, including books. Academic performance in high school can help with college costs. McCleary also plans on getting a part-time job in the summer to have extra spending money for leisure activities.

One of the most common misconceptions about the costs of higher education is that it is overpriced. Education is not something that is being purchased on a daily basis, therefore, many people seem to automatically assume that its unfairly increasing. College education is an investment that eventually pays for itself over a lifetime.

According to the College Board’s Annual Survey, earning gaps between those with only a high school diploma and those with a four-year degree or higher exceeds $1,000,000. Affording to not go to college now seems irrational.

The cost of an education may seem expensive now, but in the long run the cost of not going to college far exceeds the cost associated with tuition.


MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan University, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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