Nine years ago, Bellarmine University launched Vision 2020, our plan to become the premier independent Catholic university in the South, and thereby the leading private university in the Commonwealth and region.
Our successful pursuit of the goals of Vision 2020 – growth in enrollment, the strategic addition of schools, academic programs and campus facilities, and the hiring and support of our excellent faculty members – is transforming Bellarmine into a nationally pre-eminent private university of significant size and stature, something Louisville and this region must have in order to be competitive in the 21st century.
Private universities are vital to the success of any regional city. Bellarmine, like the nation’s more than 1,600 other private colleges and universities, serves the public good by stimulating economic development, attracting top-level talent and producing great leaders.
Yet troubling myths persist about private education. I was reminded of this at a recent retreat in Berea, Ky., with my counterparts at the 19 other non-profit, four-year independent institutions that make up the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU).
If you are reading this magazine, you already recognize the value of a Bellarmine education because you are a graduate, a student, a parent, a member of the faculty or staff, or a supporter. As such, you are among our best ambassadors. To help with your evangelizing, here are several myths about private education that you can help us debunk.
Myth: Nonprofit private colleges and universities are not affordable. Nationally, private universities are working to keep tuition as low as possible while maintaining educational excellence. Here in Kentucky, AIKCU members’ average published costs are consistently 30 percent less than the national private college average – and they provide more than $220 million each year in grants and scholarships. On average, 89 percent of all undergraduates at private schools nationwide receive financial aid. At Bellarmine, 100 percent of incoming freshmen do.
Much of this aid comes from institutions’ own resources. The federal money that private colleges and universities receive is in the form of Pell grants, which go directly to students. Likewise, state dollars spent on private education go directly to students. Nationally, the average institutional need-based grant award is more than 2.5 times the average Pell Grant award, and more than three times the average state need-based grant award. Through fundraising and other means, the institutions themselves are making up that crucial difference.
Graduates of private colleges also start their careers less burdened by student loan debt than other graduates. The average loan debt for 2011 graduates at Kentucky’s private institutions was lower than the average debt of graduates from Kentucky’s public universities and the national average.
Myth: Nonprofit private colleges and universities lack diversity. Private colleges and universities draw students of all backgrounds. Nationally and in Kentucky, minority students enroll at private schools in percentages equal to public campuses. More than one-quarter of students at private universities nationwide are adult learners. And large numbers of students at private schools become the first in their families to complete college. At Bellarmine, fully 40 percent of our incoming freshmen are first-generation college goers.
Myth: Private colleges are not critical to Kentucky’s goal to increase college degree attainment. To raise the standard of living and quality of life for its residents, Kentucky must increase the number of adults with college degrees. The state’s nonprofit private colleges produce 22 percent of the state’s bachelor’s degrees (more than 4,600 annually) – and studies show that students at private universities are far more likely to earn their degrees in four years than students at public schools. Over the past five years, for example, Bellarmine’s four-year graduation rate has been more than twice as high as the University of Louisville’s.
Private universities also have a tremendous economic impact on their communities – more than $335 billion nationwide. Taken together, AIKCU’s member institutions would be the seventh-largest private employer in the state. And even during the recession, they have undertaken more than $300 million in capital construction. Just since December 2007, Bellarmine has added three residence halls, enlarged and renovated the University Dining Hall and the School of Communication space and completed a three-story addition to Allen Hall.
Finally, private universities are better positioned to create academic programs tailored to local and regional needs. At Bellarmine, those include our School of Environmental Studies, the Ph.D. in Education and Social Change, the master’s degree in taxation and, coming this fall, our planned Institute for Advanced Analytics (for more on that, see Page 14).
I hope this information will make you even prouder to be associated with Bellarmine University and the vital role it will continue to play in the success of Louisville, of Kentucky and of this region as it ascends to national prominence.
Dr. Joseph J. McGowan | email@example.com