As a child of the (soon to be talked about, if current colleagues are correct) student loan bubble generation, the news from Converse College about their 43 percent cut in tuition is the right step in making my alma mater affordable once again. This tuition cut actually brings the overall cost of attendance down to below what it was when I matriculated in 2003.
When I applied in 2002, going to a single-gender institution was not remotely my dream. My father’s coworker was an alumna of Converse, and Converse allows for free applications if they are signed by a former student. Saying no to a free college application was not an option, given the overall costs of the application process. Other schools on my list were Providence, USC-Columbia, and Mary Baldwin, so between application fees and forwarding SAT scores, the cost was getting up there.
Converse was at the bottom of my list for a long time. What changed my mind was meeting with alumnae and former president Nancy Oliver Gray, one of the most amazing women I have ever met. The warmth I received from these women shocked me, and as I learned more about the small class sizes and the family feel of Converse, I knew that USC was not for me.
I started Converse off well, financially. I had earned a $16,000 a year honor scholarship and another $5000 a year from South Carolina’s LIFE scholarship. My student loans to make up the difference were minimal by comparison (at least, by comparison to what they would be by the end of my three years at Converse) to the sheer benefit I was receiving. At that time, my parents were in a position to help with some of the costs, and the decision to go seemed justified.
At Converse, I met the women in my life to whom I am still closest. I joined Model Programs and traveled to Jordan on study-abroad. I served as an Appeals Board representative and worked in Summer Programs. I loved my three years there, and my only regret is that it was only three years.
As tuition prices skyrocketed around the country, Converse was no exception. The pre-crash boom affected us all. In a math class I took senior year, one of the assignments we had involved calculating rate of inflation. I remember being appalled that tuition and fees, should the current rate of inflation of tuition remain constant, would be over $70,000 by the time my fictional daughters might start applying. For my own part, between a several thousand dollar hike in overall costs coupled with losing my LIFE scholarship because my residency changed, the amount of loans I would have had to take out to stay at Converse my senior year became prohibitive.
My junior-actually-senior year, I made the decision to graduate early. I have not regretted making the financial decision, but I do regret the year I lost. The decision forced me to have to drop my double major back to a major and a minor. While I had been accepted to UGA’s Masters program in Religion, I still had to take 22 hours my last semester to have the right amount of credits to graduate. As you can imagine, my grades from that last semester of overwork are the reason I lost my cum laude status.
Students should not get halfway through college only to have their financial ability to finish taken away from them. They should not have to make the choice between debt and pursuing their ideal major(s). They should not have to immediately not consider a college that they could thrive at simply because of sticker price.
I am sure I am one of many recent alumnae staring at our bills, wishing that the decision had been made sooner. But Converse was not alone in having/choosing to raise its tuition over the last decade. Anyone that graduated in the aughts knows this to be true. Converse is one of the first (see also Sewanee, Ashland, Concordia, and Seton Hall) to dramatically lower its tuition prices and, unlike some others, is doing so from a position of growth and strength. Converse’s undergraduate enrollment is higher than it has been in years, and its capital campaign has led to the building of several new dormitories (and the renovation of others) as well as a brand new field house for our sports program. With such marked growth in freshman class size over the last three years, it would have be an easy decision to continue charging the same amount of tuition. But it would not be the right thing to do for Converse’s future students. I am proud, so proud, of Converse for recognizing that the entire reason they exist is to provide top-notch educational opportunities to students without harming them or their families financially. Well done, Converse. Well done.