Is it only a coincidence that a resurgence in enrollment and support of private colleges in Kansas occurred almost simultaneously with the doubling of tuition at public universities under the Kansas Board of Regents umbrella?
An Associated Press story in Tuesday's Journal-World cited several examples of small liberal arts colleges in the state that struggled in the 1980s but now are thriving. After operating at deficits for years, these schools reported significant increases in both fundraising and enrollment. Improved finances have allowed them to upgrade their physical facilities, strengthen their academic programs and boost student recruiting.
The educational package they offer prospective students still is more expensive than what is available at a state university, but not by as much as it once was. And there is the added attraction of smaller classes, more individual attention and more financial aid to offset the costs.
Depending on what residence hall and meal plan they choose, Kansas residents attending Kansas University must spend between $11,352 and $13,250 a year for tuition (15 credit hours), fees and housing. For non-residents, that rises to between $20,320 and $22,620. That's before the addition of any differential tuition charged by individual schools and additional fees for bus passes or parking.
Three smaller colleges cited in the AP article - Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina and Sterling College in Sterling - just about match non-resident tuition at KU with tuition, fees and housing costs totaling about $22,000. Wesleyan's Web site also promises students an average class size of 25 students and no classes taught by teaching assistants.
And although costs are higher, financial aid is abundant at the schools. According to their Web sites, 99 percent of Wesleyan students and 90 percent at Bethany receive financial aid. Not to be outdone, Sterling's Web site says, "All fully admitted students of Sterling College receive financial aid."
Even though their enrollments are up, all these private colleges have fewer than 1,000 students on their campuses. Attending one of these schools is a far different experience than attending a larger state university like KU. The small college experience isn't for everyone, but as tuition rises at state-assisted universities in Kansas, it's not surprising that small private colleges with their smaller classes and attractive financial aid packages are getting a second look from many prospective students.