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Bellevue University Study: Rising Costs and Massive Student Loan Debt Put College Out of Reach for Many

  • Over two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) believe that degree programs currently cost more than they are worth, and 36 percent said that the cost of a degree has risen disproportionally to its value in the last five years.
  • 76 percent of Americans said that affordability would be important to them if they were to pursue a degree.
  • Additionally, 37 percent of Americans said that affordability would be most likely to motivate them to earn a degree in the next five years.
  • Just 40 percent of Americans said that obtaining more education is worth taking on more debt. Meanwhile, 55 percent said they would only pursue a degree if it would not put them into debt.

Omaha, Neb., October 15, 2013 – Bellevue University, an award-winning leader in educating adult learners and creator of the first-of-its-kind, skills-based Flexxive® learning model, today released the study “The Search for Affordable Alternatives: Rising Costs and Massive Student Loan Debt Put College Out of Reach for Many.” The study highlights the fact that 68 percent of Americans believe that degree programs currently cost more than they are worth. This can be attributed to skyrocketing costs in recent years, as over a third of Americans (36 percent) said that the cost of a degree has risen disproportionally to its value in the last five years. Additionally, 66 percent of Americans feel that the cost of an education has risen faster than the cost of other major services.

These numbers are important because many Americans are concerned with the affordability of degree programs. As reported by “The Search for Affordable Alternatives,” 76 percent of Americans said that affordability would be important to them if they were to pursue a degree.  And while people decide to pursue a degree for many reasons, cost remains a top priority. Just over a third of Americans, 37 percent, said that affordable costs would be most likely to motivate them to earn a degree in the next five years.

When you combine these rising costs with the amount of debt many Americans have taken on, it becomes easy to see why Americans who are considering enrolling in a degree program face a dilemma. “The Search for Affordable Alternatives” highlights that 64 percent of Americans said that their level of debt has increased or stayed the same in the last three years, making it difficult for a majority to take on additional debt. This is compounded by the fact that 47 percent of Americans do not feel that higher education institutions offer affordable degree programs. Furthermore, many Americans do not believe going into debt to earn a degree is the answer, as just 40 percent of Americans said that obtaining more education is worth taking on more debt. Meanwhile, 55 percent said they would only pursue a degree if it would not put them into debt.

“Colleges and universities need to find more ways to ensure degree programs are affordable,” said Dr. Mary Hawkins, president of Bellevue University. “With many Americans taking on increased debt in recent years, it is simply not feasible for them to enroll in degree programs that are not as cost effective as possible.”

Women Leverage Higher Education to Improve Finances

According to “The Search for Affordable Alternatives: Rising Costs and Massive Student Loan Debt Put College Out of Reach for Many,” 75 percent of women said that affordable costs would be important to them if they were to pursue a degree, and 58 percent of women said they would only pursue a degree if it would not put them into debt. Unfortunately for many colleges and universities, the perception among many women is that degree programs are not currently affordable, as 48 percent of women (a higher percentage than men) do not feel that higher education institutions offer affordable degree programs.

And while clearly the affordability of a degree is important to Americans, the actual value versus the perceived value of a degree is under increased scrutiny. As “The Search for Affordable Alternatives” highlights, 70 percent of women, a greater percentage than men, said that they believe that degree programs currently cost more than they are worth. The good news for colleges and universities is that almost half of American women see the value in earning a degree, as 42 percent said they would pursue a degree even if it put them into debt.

High Number of Men Return to School in Light of Recession

As the U.S. recovers from the recent recession, many men are considering furthering their education to make themselves more marketable within their current field, as well as other potential career paths. Unfortunately, according to “The Search for Affordable Alternatives,” 69 percent of men reported that the cost of education has risen faster than the cost of other major services. Additionally, 65 percent of men said that degree programs currently cost more than they are worth.

Making degree programs more financially accessible must be a step that colleges and universities take. As reported by “The Search for Affordable Alternatives,” three-fourths (76 percent) of men said that affordable costs would be important to them if they were to pursue a degree, and 37 percent of men reported that affordable costs would be the most likely to motivate them to pursue a degree, or additional degree, in the next five years. Finding innovative financial solutions that appeal to men will give colleges and universities a step up.

“Many men are ready to further their education and are looking for affordable programs to enroll in,” Dr. Hawkins said. “Colleges and universities can draw more potential students to their degree programs by leveraging innovative solutions that lower the cost of earning a degree.”

The Desire for More Affordable Educational Options Transcends Age

People of all ages across the country need more education. Regardless of what point they are at in their career, Americans are finding that more education can open doors to advancement and more opportunities. As the demand for education has grown, one thing that has remained constant is the value that is placed on education. Around the nation, Americans of all ages are going back to school to pursue degree programs that can either help them advance in their current career or change directions to a more favorable path.

According to “The Search for Affordable Alternatives,” a large portion of Americans in all age groups said that affordability would be important to them if they were to pursue a degree—78 percent of 35-44 year olds, 75 percent of 45-54 year olds and 70 percent of 18-34 year olds. Additionally, many Americans—led by 74 percent of 45-54 year olds—said that degree programs currently cost more than they are worth. While each of the age groups are willing to put forth the money and effort to earn degrees, the overall feeling remains that many degree programs are not worth their cost.

So what can colleges and universities do to allow more potential students of all ages to enroll in classes? Obviously, making the programs more affordable, by leveraging technology to lower costs (such as online textbooks) and focusing more on academics instead of other expensive extras (such as housing facilities), will allow more students to get back into the classroom. As reported by “The Search for Affordable Alternatives,” 45 percent of 18-34 year olds (which leads all age groups) said that affordable costs would be most likely to motivate them to pursue a degree, or additional degree, in the next five years. Additionally, 45-54 year olds led all ages and reported they would only pursue a degree if it would not put them into debt.

“Students of all ages understand the value of earning a degree,” Dr. Hawkins said. “But many students are unable to pay more than necessary to earn these degrees. If colleges and universities make their programs more financially accessible, it will give more adults the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to fill the high-tech, high-school jobs of the future.”

Affordable Learning Around the Nation

Across the country, Americans want to believe in the value of a degree. However, no matter what region of the nation you look at, Americans are tentative to enroll in classes because of the perceived notion that the value of a degree is not worth the cost. “The Search for Affordable Alternatives” highlights the fact that across the regions, two-thirds feel that the cost of education has risen faster than the cost of other major services, led by 68 percent of Westerners. Additionally, 70 percent of Southerners, which leads all regions, said that they believe that degree programs currently cost more than they are worth.

Unfortunately, as was true throughout the study, the thought of going deeper into debt to get a degree is shying many Americans away from pursuing higher education. Reporting the highest numbers, Westerners led the nation with 61 percent of the region saying they would only pursue a degree if it would not put them into debt. Additionally, more people in the Midwest than any other region—69 percent—said their level of debt has increased or stayed the same in the last three years.

About the Study

“The Search for Affordable Alternatives: Rising Costs and Massive Student Loan Debt Put College Out of Reach for Many” is based on a survey of more than 1,000 Americans ages 18 and older. The research was conducted in collaboration with Kelton Research using an email invitation and an online survey format. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population ages 18 and over. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. In this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3.1 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.

About Bellevue University
Bellevue University is a recognized national leader in providing post-secondary education opportunities for working adults. A private, non-profit institution, Bellevue University serves students at learning sites in three states, as well as worldwide through its award-winning online learning platform. Bellevue University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. For more information, visit www.bellevue.edu.

Contact:

Jim Maxwell

Bellevue University

(402) 557-7786