Alliant International University has been in the local news lately because we responded to an invitation from the Sweetwater Union High School District to offer classes leading to a four-year bachelor’s degree in the South Bay starting this fall. Some people have questioned the idea of inviting a private, not-for-profit institution into the community on the assumption that it is unaffordable or that it would lead students into high levels of debt. In fact, Alliant, like many private institutions, works with students and their families to find an affordable path through college.
Here are the facts in Alliant’s case: Tuition for one year of full-time undergraduate study is priced at just over $15,000. For California residents, Alliant will provide scholarships of $3,000 to $4,000, depending on the student’s entering grade point average, and these amounts will increase in later years if the student continues to make good progress toward the degree. We have agreed to add another $1,000 per year in scholarships for Sweetwater District students.
But that’s just the beginning. Students with at least a 3.0 grade average may be eligible for more than $9,000 per year through the state’s Cal Grant program. Federal programs such as the Pell Grant, which are targeted at low and middle-income families, can add another $5,000 or $6,000 to the aid package.
In other words, some students qualify for financial aid that meets nearly all of the cost of education. We assist families in exploring and applying for these options, and we encourage students to take full advantage of them before they consider borrowing a penny. Many of our students also work at least part-time to help defray college expenses.
Every private college and university has its own approach to financial aid, and some even promise to make it possible for every admitted student to attend, regardless of their ability to pay. Families should look beyond the published tuition; the true cost of attendance is likely much different, and may vary greatly depending on individual circumstances. Studies have shown that many students are unaware of the full range of financial aid available to them, and this lack of knowledge may keep them from pursuing higher education altogether.
Higher education in the United States consists of many kinds of institutions: public and private, large and small. California’s public institutions have been under severe budget strain in recent years, causing them to turn away many qualified students, limit the availability of some classes, and raise fees. As a result, many private universities have tried to rethink how they can help serve the growing demand for higher education in our region. No single institution will answer every need and interest. In addition to cost, students should carefully consider factors such as the programs of study offered, class size, graduation rates, the average time it takes to complete a degree, support services, extracurricular opportunities, and the experiences of current students and alumni. The most important question is, “which institution is right for me?”
Exactly 40 years ago I graduated from high school and entered college. My family had no extra money for tuition. I received a generous scholarship from a local private college and I lived at home to save money. I also worked at countless part-time jobs and took out some student loans. Later I went to another private university to pursue a graduate degree, still working and occasionally borrowing to support myself and pay for my education. Millions of other students have made their way through school the same way, and many of us would say it was the best investment we ever made.
Cox is the president of Alliant International University