Keep college affordable

Posted: February 18, 2013

By Neil D. Theobald

As the new president of Temple University, I have spent my first weeks talking with students, faculty, alumni, and others in Philadelphia and around the commonwealth. I have been struck by the enthusiastic and open welcome and the willingness of people to share their hopes and dreams about Temple. At the same time, an important question runs through these conversations: How do we help students earn their degrees without amassing excessive debt?

A Temple degree is a valuable asset that pays dividends over the lifetime of our graduates. A recent study from the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that a college graduate with a bachelor's degree can expect to earn an average of $1 million more during his or her lifetime than a high school graduate. Another fact is also clear: Pennsylvania needs more college graduates. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce recently reported that by 2018, 57 percent of Pennsylvania jobs will require some postsecondary education.

So how do we help students and their families?

First, Temple University is committed to containing student costs through actions such as freezing undergraduate tuition this year. As we make plans for next year, Temple will continue to work hard to keep tuition and fees within the reach of every qualified student.

Second, Temple is examining current practices and expenditures to facilitate responsible stewardship of the public dollars that we are privileged to receive. Over the next 18 months, Temple will move to a decentralized budget model and shift budgeting decisions into the hands of the deans and faculty to reward decisions that are efficient, entrepreneurial, and creative. Temple can be aided in this effort by predictable state funding. We are committed to work with Gov. Corbett and the General Assembly to ensure the commonwealth's investment in higher education pays dividends.

Third, we must create incentives for students to graduate in four years. The longer students take to complete their degrees, the more years they accumulate debt and delay their entry into the workforce. Academic advisers must help students stay on track, and classes should be taught when students need them.

Next, Temple and other schools must take a larger role in educating people on the real costs of going to college. We will work with students and their families early in the application process so that they understand the reality of this investment. For example, we will customize financial-aid notifications to accentuate the student-loan component, and offer to meet with students and parents to discuss options and create budgets.

We must also teach practical, basic financial literacy to our students. I have talked with the leadership at the Fox School of Business about starting such a course for Temple students. The idea is to teach students how to make smart choices about budgeting, savings, and debt.

Part of a financial literacy initiative I began at Indiana University offers students an annual statement with how much they have borrowed and how much their payments will be when they begin to pay the loans down. I would like to replicate that type of program at Temple. Keeping students informed about the costs they are incurring will help them take out only as much as they need and to shop around for the best possible options.

Finally, we must encourage our students to apply what they are learning through internship and other capstone opportunities so they will be real-world ready.

As I begin my term as Temple's president, these thoughts represent the beginning of a long-term commitment to our students, their families, and the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. Together, we can ensure that Temple's students will graduate with not only the knowledge, but also the financial stability, to take their place as the next generation of leaders in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the nation.


Neil D. Theobald became Temple Universitys 10th president on Jan. 1. E-mail him at president@temple.edu.

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