Colleges discuss affordability

Leaders of private schools make case concerning cost of tuition

CRESSON — Presidents of private colleges recently converged on Mount Aloysius College for a meeting about topics in private post-secondary education.

“We spent a lot of time talking about affordability. It’s a collective issue for us,” said Barbara Mistick, president of Wilson College in Chambersburg.

She said there are challenges for the colleges, namely declining populations of high school graduates, particularly in the Northeast.

However, Patrick Leahy, president of Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, said private education has shown to be affordable for many who might not expect it.

“There is a great misperception that we are not affordable, but it is decidedly affordable,” Leahy said. “There is a higher sticker price for private education, but what students’ net tuition price is with need-based aid and merit aid is comparable with public institutions.”

For example, U.S. News and World Report released rankings in September that showed Juniata College, a private college in Huntingdon County, has a higher sticker price than the state’s flagship state-related university, Penn State. However, the average amount of debt accrued by the Class of 2016 at Juniata was less than Penn State students’ debt.

While Juniata College tuition and fees are listed as $43,875 and Penn State’s in-state tuition was listed as $18,436, members of Juniata’s Class of 2016 had an average total indebtedness $36,338, which is almost $900 less than a Penn State student’s average indebtedness of $37,213.

“It’s a great misconception that private education is not affordable,” Leahy stressed.

“We have an example right here at Mount Aloysius, where President Tom Foley said 61 percent of its students are the first in their family to afford a college degree,” he said.

Wilson and Leahy said the student composition at their respective colleges is similar.

“We are proud to be playing a public role as private institutions,” Leahy said.

All of the private college presidents gathered at Mount Aloysius College are on the board of directors for the Association of Independent College and Universities of Pennsyl­vania.

Mount Aloysius’ Foley serves as chairman of that association. In addition to Mistick and Leahy, other board members in attendance included Janet Morgan Riggs, past president of Gettysburg College; David Coppola, Keystone College; Mark Volk, Lackawanna College; James A. Troha, Juniata College; Brian Keech, Drexel University; and Lewis E. Thayne, Lebanon Valley College. Also attending were AICUP President Don L. Francis and the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, past president of Villanova University.

The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsyl­vania, based in Harrisburg, is the only statewide organization that exclusively serves the interests of the state’s private higher education institution. Its total membership includes 89 private colleges and universities.