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Columnist
Tuition freeze is no gimmick
By William Carroll | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 12/2/2008 12:01 AM

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Last month, I wrote about the role of stewardship at Benedictine University in Lisle and how being responsible stewards requires us to reach out to our community in new and different ways.

As president of Benedictine University, I believe no parent should have to tell their child they cannot go to college because they can't afford it.

Institutions of higher learning are facing tough economic realities much like families throughout this country. Nonetheless, last month I was pleased to announce the university will not raise its tuition for the coming year and new freshmen (fall 2009) will receive no tuition increase in their second year (as long as they enroll continuously).

As a result of this announcement, newspapers across the country carried the story of Benedictine's tuition freeze. To this day I know of no other college or university in the country that has announced a tuition freeze. In fact, I read one report that suggested the coming year could see the largest increase in tuition in the history of higher education.

But not at Benedictine University.

Interestingly, a very popular consultant to higher education called tactics such as a tuition freeze a "gimmick." However, let's look at the ledger from the perspective of the university and parents.

If Benedictine were to increase its tuition 5 percent in the coming year, it would translate to an increase in income of roughly $2 million - not a shabby number considering that while our tuition is frozen, costs will continue to rise and the income that would normally be available from a tuition increase will not be available.

From the perspective of parents and students, the savings per year will be in excess of $1,000 per student. I have yet to have anyone say this is an insignificant amount.

But the tuition freeze is only the beginning. At the end of last month's column, I said additional measures also were being considered.

Benedictine takes its responsibility of stewardship very seriously, so during the past few weeks we have sought ways to lighten the financial burden families are now facing. It's the Benedictine thing to do.

Responsible stewardship is more than regard for the environment. We consider Benedictine stewardship a concerted effort to live Benedictine values, which include a search for God by oneself and with others, a tradition of hospitality, an appreciation for living and working in community, a concern for the development of each person, and a commitment to academic excellence.

While all Benedictine values are important, what is foremost in our minds is stewardship. Stewardship is embedded in each Benedictine value. In a very real sense, stewardship is the glue that holds the other values together.

As an educational community, students and their parents are an integral part. As the economic news continues to be bad, the economic constraints on families continue to tighten.

To be of some further assistance, I am pleased to announce that in addition to a tuition freeze for next year, a three-pronged program, "The Displaced Earner Program," will be available to our families beginning in January 2009.

First, free career development services are available to students who have recently completed an undergraduate degree at Benedictine but have been unable to find work in a tight job market, and to alumni who have recently become displaced because of the economic downturn. Financial aid counselors will also meet with recent graduates to seek creative solutions to minimize any debt load they have.

Second, students who recently received an undergraduate degree at Benedictine will be eligible to enroll in one graduate class with free tuition when they register for a graduate class for which they are able to pay.

Third, if an adult undergraduate or graduate student or traditional undergraduate student's parents or guardians become unemployed or if their financial situation radically changes, the Displaced Earner Program also will provide additional financial aid. Free career development services will be available for that parent or guardian to help them find new jobs. The Benedictine staff also will work with families to develop a creative and affordable college financing plan.

When the current undergraduate student population came to us as freshmen and transfer students, the nation's economy was strong and there was no reason to be concerned. In all likelihood, had things stayed the same, the university would probably have announced a tuition increase and no additional aid to families.

But times have changed dramatically for those who entrusted their loved ones to us for a higher education. The university is not going to abandon them because times are difficult.

I recently met with faculty representatives, deans, directors and vice presidents to discuss the very real implications of the tuition freeze and the economy moving forward. I likened our journey to a canoe trip down an uncharted river. Up ahead there is a bend in the river and we hear a noise from around the bend. Is it rapids, a waterfall or just a train? Good canoeists make preparation to be ready for "around the bend."

As stewards of the Benedictine University community, we can hear "noises" around the bend. As good stewards, we must be prepared. These tough economic times are akin to the journey down the river. We do not know what the journey holds, but we must be ready.

• William Carroll is president of Benedictine University in Lisle.