By Dana Sizemore
It’s back to school time again, and very soon kids everywhere will be filing back into their classrooms. The return to school each August squeaks in with a parade of new shoes and backpacks, while it marches in with a promise… the promise of a new start in a higher place. As students move on to the next level, for many this fall, moving up will soon mean moving out. are that many more who are starting their senior year of high school and just now deciding where they will go after they graduate. Today’s seniors have loads of options as to where and how to continue their education. Kentucky hosts nine public universities and countless other private institutions. Ranging from very large universities, to the smallest of private schools, and even vocational schools— the options can be overwhelming.
Where a student chooses to go to college is one of the most important decisions he or she will ever make. Brad Goan, the Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions at Transylvania University says that choosing a college is about “finding a good fit.” He says every student needs to evaluate, “how the opportunities a college provides match with your needs and wants; and with your expectation of the college experience.” Goan says that every type of college has something different to offer. He says students need to ask themselves, “Which of these things will make their experience most meaningful and add value to their life after college.”
To help ease some of the anxiety that surrounds this topic, we will discuss some of the different types of higher education options out there. We will also take a look at their costs; and get an idea of the academic, as well as the campus experience at these different places of learning. PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES
Public Universities are called “public” because they receive state or federal funding, through public tax dollars, to operate. Because of the acceptance of public funds, public universities are required to adhere to many federal standards and state-wide admission requirements.
Public universities are built to educate the masses, so they are usually large schools, on vast campuses. If diversity is what you,or your soon to be college student seeks, the public university is where it’s at. They house large departments and scores of degree options. The University of Kentucky, for instance, hosts 16 colleges and professional schools, and offers more than 200 academic programs. This also means that class sizes are large, especially in those basic courses that everyone needs to get. Class sizes at UK range from 10-100 students, with the average being around 33 students.
The faculty at public universities is generally very involved in research in their fields. This equates into many practical and exciting research assistance opportunities for students, and can often open doors for future employment.
In addition to more academic opportunities, public universities also offer a wide variety of campus-based recreational activities.
Sororities and fraternities; intramural sports leagues; clubs and more can often be heard buzzing around campus. UK hosts more than 450 student organizations and clubs, as well as 16 types of sports teams for students to take part in.
The average cost of tuition at a state university is $8,893 per year. The average cost of room and board is $9,205. This means students living on campus will pay somewhere around $18,098 per year. The University of Kentucky estimates that by the time the costs of tuition, room and board, books, travel expenses and personal expenditures are factored in, a student will invest around $23,800 a year to attend the university. That estimate drops to $15,400 if they are not living on campus. To help with the cost of higher education, public schools often offer a wide variety of grants, work to earn programs and unique funding opportunities.
Private colleges or universities are not funded by public dollars, and therefore are not required to adhere to many of the admissions requirements that public universities do. Private schools can, and often do, have more stringent academic acceptance standards. Some are affiliated with a specific religious belief that defines the institutional ideology, and may even set standards for expectations in student behavior.
Private colleges are often smaller in size, and reside on smaller campuses. This means class sizes are smaller and more intimate, allowing students more opportunity to get to know their professors. The average class size at Transylvania University is 13 students. Goan says, “This intimate academic environment provides students the opportunity to work very closely with each other and with the faculty members.” He says, “… professors know students well enough to really push them in their areas of strength and support them in their areas of weakness. Knowing students this well also allows faculty members to recommend or guide students to additional opportunities outside of the classroom – like internships, research opportunities and volunteer experiences.”
Many students find the smaller setting of a private school welcoming, with a family-like atmosphere. As one Transylvania University student stated, “I’ve taken classes at larger universities and I couldn’t even find the professor’s door. It is pretty nice to be able to walk down the hallway from the classroom to my professor’s office.” Alice Lloyd College students comment on how nice it is to constantly bump into their professors on campus. Students at this small private college, in Eastern Kentucky, often even share meals with their professors in the one cafeteria offered on campus.
Smaller schools equate to fewer degree options. Very often, however, unusual or innovative academic programs can be found at private schools, with many schools having become known for certain degree programs, while others strive to offer their students unique opportunities. Asbury University offers the only Police Mount Equine program in the nation, and again, it is the only school in the nation to have media students working as paid broadcasters at every Olympics.
Private schools often offer a variety of campus-based recreational activities, although at a much smaller scale than that of a larger school. You will find around seventy student organizations and clubs on the Transylvania campus.
Tuition costs are higher at private schools because they do not accept public funding. The national average cost of tuition at a private school is $30,094 per year. Room and board runs about $10,462. This means the average student will pay around $40,556 per year to attend a private school. In general, private schools will work very hard to help students find grants and financial aid to help with the costs. According to Brad Johnson, Director of Marketing and Communications at Asbury University, “Asbury has a robust financial-aid program discounting the cost of its tuition with a variety of scholarships and grant programs.” Johnson goes on to say, “The reality is that more than 90% of the students at Asbury receive financial aid, and more than half of the student body has half of their tuition covered by gift aid.”
Vocational schools, also known as trade schools, can be public or private. In contrast to a four year degree granting institution, where students often learn abstractly, students at vocational schools enjoy hands on training in preparation for a specific career. Students can finish their training in half the time – most vocational programs are designed to be completed in two years. After completion of the program, students should be prepared to pass certification tests to become licensed professionals in their field.
Vocational school is for the individual who learns by doing and who knows what he or she wants to do. Students gain the skills they need to get good paying jobs and be proficient at doing them. Arthur Posey, a retired high school guidance counselor and writer about educational issue says, “Vocational schools train people in skill sets that translate into job security. It does not matter how the economy is doing – the world will always need more medical assistants, sonographers, mechanics, electricians, and dental hygienists.”
Vocational schools do not offer housing to students, therefore the campus life aspect does not apply when considering this type of school. Debbie Chadwell, a graduate of the Cosmetology Program at the Kentucky Community and Technical College, says despite this, “great relationships are formed…there is lots of opportunity to make really good friends. The really neat thing,” she adds, “is the relationships you form with your teachers. They have worked extensively within the field they are teaching. They are very good what they do and they enjoy passing on that knowledge. Beyond that, the contacts they have are invaluable. There are lots of opportunities to take advantage of if students are interested.”
Vocational school costs less than a traditional college or university. The Kentucky Community and Technical College estimates the cost for students to participate in one of their degree programs is $11,280 per year - that is if they are living at home with their parents. If not, that estimation goes up to $14,066 per year. Just like traditional colleges, technical training also qualifies for financial aid and grants, making this type of training even more affordable.
With this many choices, the tough part is deciding where to go. One thing is for sure, the potentials are limitless. Brad Goan suggests students “do their research, talk to current students and visit campuses.” It is all about finding that right fit and moving up.