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Chronicle Messages

Paying Your Way at Berry College
Summer 2000
PDF Version

For many years, Berry has been well known for offering a life-changing education at an extremely low cost. At the time of our founding almost a century ago, $50 could maintain a student for a year at The Berry Schools. The dollar cost was low in those days because students paid for their education in other ways. New students typically worked full-time for a semester before they began taking classes, and even after that, the class schedule was adapted to the work schedule. Students would work four days a week during the term, and many worked all summer. The pay was low but so were expenses.

We kept costs down by raising most of our food, constructing almost all of our buildings, and supplying nearly all essential services through the use of student labor. At one time, we even made our own bricks. The institution was nearly self-sufficient. While the work tradition continues as we approach our second century, some emphases have shifted. Academic performance receives major attention now, although work opportunities remain a vital part of the total educational program for students. Over 80 percent of our students hold down jobs on campus. Through the Founder's Work Program, it is possible to complete a Berry education in five years with no debt. The extra year and summer months are devoted to full-time work. Work schedules these days are coordinated around busy class loads, and most students work about 10 hours a week. The standard pay is the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, although hourly pay increases slightly with experience and in some cases with added responsibility.

It has been awhile since we charged $50 a year. Tuition, room, and board at Berry will cost between $16,726-$17,670 during the 2000-01 academic year. The cost varies according to the meal plan selected and the choice of residence hall. For instance, suites with kitchens are more expensive than regular rooms.

At first glance, we may seem expensive. But in comparison to other private institutions, our charges are low. The Berry price for tuition, room, and board is only slightly more than the charges for tuition alone at the average private college. In 1999, the average tuition cost for a private college in the United States was $15,380, a figure that is liable to increase next year between three and four percent. My conservative estimate of average costs at private colleges for tuition, room, and board next year is $21,000. Compare $17,000 to $21,000, and you will see how much we underprice the average private college.

We do not offer an average education, however, and there is nothing average about our student body and faculty. When our costs are compared to private colleges of our academic quality, the disparity in price increases. In 1999, tuition, room, and board at Furman University was $23,000; at Rhodes College, $24,000; and at Sewanee, $24,300! Their prices will rise next year, as will the price gap.

Tuition charges do not cover the costs of running the college. Businesses, of course, charge prices that are higher than their costs in order to make a profit. We hold prices below actual costs by using earnings from our endowment as well as money that comes to us as gifts. Tuition and fees cover only a little more than half of the actual annual cost of educating our students. This year, our operating expenses were $39 million. Revenue from tuition and fees was $21 million. We had to come up with $18 million to make up the difference.

The story becomes more complex. This academic year we are also spending $9 million for scholarships and other student aid. In the language of financial aid, we offer a significant discount. The work opportunity program is also a form of financial aid, and we spend almost $3 million each year for student wages. Moreover, the state of Georgia gives direct grants to qualifying Georgia students at Berry in the amount of $4.6 million annually from HOPE Scholarships and Tuition Equalization Grants. For many of these students, these grants come to $4,000 annually. This support from the state holds down the amount that many Georgia students and their parents must pay for a Berry education. In short, Mom, Dad, and students typically pay significantly less than the price we charge.

What do students get for their -- and their parents' -- money? U.S. News & World Report recognizes Berry as one of the "best colleges" in the southeastern United States, and one of the "Best College Values in the South." Money magazine consistently gives us a similar rating as a "best buy." We recently received the equivalent of "A" grades from two regional and national accrediting agencies. External reviewers identify Berry as a very good college, far above average, and approaching the ranks of the very best in the country.

Half of our students are the first generation in their family to attend college. Moreover, the Berry constituency tends to be from the middle of the middle class, people who must budget carefully. Our constituency differs from that of Rhodes and Sewanee, where families are accustomed to paying the high costs of college and indeed may have more income to draw upon. To some Berry families, it is immaterial that we can offer a high quality education for much less than other private colleges charge. Even a fraction of the Berry tuition sometimes seems too great a burden to bear. The Georgia residents we recruit -- "B" students or better -- can attend state universities tuition free.

It is hard for us to compete financially with places that charge nothing. We can compete very well academically and in the quality of our total educational program. Interestingly, out-of-state tuition, room, and board at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech are $16,050. That is just less than Berry charges. By most standards, we are indeed an excellent buy. (In-state tuition and fees are $8,000 at Georgia and $8,800 at Georgia Tech.)

We don't want to abandon our traditional constituents, and thus we struggle to balance low costs and high-quality academic offerings. An education of the head, the heart, and the hands and a commitment to serving others represent the best preparation a young person can have to negotiate the complex voyage into the 21st century. Our unending challenge at Berry is to make a unique education possible for the young people it will most benefit. For such reasons, you will often hear me asking for your help. What I am really seeking are ways to transform the lives of young people, and that is the best buy on this planet.

Dr. Scott Colley
Berry College President

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