JULIAN WYLLIE | Columnist
According to a U.S. News and World Report profile on Butler University, the 2012 graduating class had an average total indebtedness of $35,210.
Butler University’s students’ average total indebtedness is similar to the national average.
“As of quarter one in 2012, the average student loan balance for all age groups is $24,301. About one-quarter of borrowers owe more than $28,000, 10 percent of borrowers owe more than $54,000, 3 percent owe more than $100,000, and less than 1 percent, or 167,000 people, owe more than $200,000,” according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Even with student loan debt, a college-educated person will earn more throughout their lifetime than someone who has no college education at all.
“When we look at lifetime earnings—the sum of earnings over a career—the total premium is $570,000 for a bachelor’s degree,” a report by the Brookings Institution said.
The question for Butler students is not a “college or no college” decision. The issue is whether or not a Butler degree is ultimately more valuable compared to that of another institution.
In response to rising costs of higher education, Butler has attempted to address the financial concerns by offering various amounts of financial aid.
Eighty-four percent of undergraduate students during the 2011-2012 school year received an average of $17,331 from government grants or scholarship aid. More than half of students received federal student loans during this time.
Butler students should expect to have debt in a range of $25,000-$35,000 at graduation.
When asked if the average student loan debt for Butler students was “too much,” professor of economics Thomas Litkowski said that “(the average debt) doesn’t sound like a lot to (him) for a college-educated person whose lifetime earnings will probably surpass that.”
Of course, some students’ debt may be higher than the average. The studies above recognize that detail. However, most students will not have student loan debt higher than the average.
Litkowski is of the opinion that Butler’s high value includes its small class sizes, commitment by professors and administration, and the intelligent blend of students.
“Both my daughters went to good (private) schools. Both very highly rated schools,” Litkowski said. “I would say that they got a good education. But I would say that they probably could’ve gotten a better education at Butler.”
Economics professor Josh Owens said she believes that Butler’s overall curriculum, particularly the College of Business, gives students the opportunity to excel in and out of the classroom.
“I think the brand of Butler is that ‘these are students who have had a lot of internship experience,” Owens said. “These are students who have had a lot of learning with the book stuff, but they’ve also had to use that knowledge in the work place already.
“That’s something that is ahead of the curve in comparison to a lot of universities.”
Butler ranks 47th as an undergraduate business program, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The program requires students to participate in “real business experience” and attain two internships before graduation.
The university appears committed to students’ success long after graduation. The alumni core helps future students build upon established connections.
But what will life be like for a recent graduate of the university?
Owens noted that after graduating, the average student will owe monthly payments on student loans, making life less enjoyable to some degree. It is a real world concern.
But what is given up in the short-term can be made up in the long-term with future earnings, job flexibility and a competitive portfolio.
The rising cost of admission into the university must be questioned. Students should not remain idle. However, Butler has shown through example that higher education can be innovative and worth the overall investment.
Owens offered anecdotal evidence to this claim.
“When I was living in (Washington) D.C., and I told people I was coming back to Indianapolis to teach at Butler, I was impressed by the number of people who were very familiar with Butler,” Owens said. “I would put some of this on the athletic decisions. Being in the Big East Conference will probably give students more opportunities in the Northeast corridor. It’s the exposure of the athletics. It’s very valuable. Every student will benefit from that.”
Butler’s value comes from its perception of having a high-quality program. Employers, faculty, alumni, students and the general public recognize the prestige of the name “Butler.”
Butler may not be Harvard, but students at Butler are just as prepared for the changing job market.
The cost of higher education is an issue for most students anywhere in the country. Most students do not receive 100 percent of the financial aid they need. But if Butler prepares students for the future better than most institutions, it is worth the short-term costs.
Students must be willing to use all of the resources and connections at their disposable to fully recoup the high cost of admission. The opportunities are there for the taking. As Owens said, students must “take that degree, network and connections and get the most out of it.”
I would suggest certain changes to the Butler’s financial aid system. Financial aid should incentivize students to become well-rounded. GPA and test scores are not enough. Scholarships should be based on promoting student excellence in and out of the classroom.
In short, the value of the Butler degree is ultimately in the hands of students, faculty, alumni and administration. Butler will continue thrive so long as each individual participates in building the reputation of the university and further promoting its excellence.