The sad irony is the value of a college degree in our competitive global economy is greater than ever while access to that degree seems far too limited for most people.
This modern dilemma has been coined the “Iron Triangle” of affordability, access and quality. Improvements in one side of the triangle can cause problems with another. Reducing costs can hurt both quality and access. Elevating quality can raise costs. Increasing access can dilute quality. Those points, frequently made by the U.S. Secretary of Education, are relevant across the nation and on our campus.
Generally, the tightening of state budgets along with inflation and heightened expectations for student experiences have pushed college tuition beyond the reach of many household incomes.
Even with significant assistance from federal and state financial aid as well as institutional scholarships, more than 70 percent of our nation’s graduates last year had student loans averaging more than $29,000 per borrower. The situation here in Tennessee is not much better with 58 percent of our graduates borrowing an average of about $22,000 each. To make matters worse, we know that it is generally taking more time for new graduates to successfully enter the workforce in this post-recession economy to begin repaying those student loans.
This is a national problem without an easy solution. Fortunately, the story here at Tennessee Tech is a positive outlier bucking the national trend so far. TTU has been consistently ranked as one of the most accessible and affordable universities in the country while providing a high quality educational experience to graduates that get good jobs at an 85 percent placement rate while carrying an average loan debt of only $6,400.
I am very proud of Tech’s current position in the higher education marketplace, but standing still is not a winning strategy going forward. We must be diligent in our efforts to control unnecessary costs while aggressively seeking improvements in quality at the same time. The balance among these often conflicting forces can be delicate, but Tennessee Tech has consistently proven itself up to that challenge.