Op-ed by Dr. Evans P. Whitaker, President of Anderson University. Featured concurrently on April 11, 2018 in both The Greenville News and the Anderson Independent Mail, both part of the USA Today network.
The Great Recession was a watershed moment in American history. The financial cataclysm of the late 2000s forced everyone to take a long look in the mirror and question long-held assumptions about our society.
Everything was on the table: How strong is our national economy, really? How much debt is too much? Is home ownership all that it’s cracked up to be?
Many of these questions linger, a decade later. One in particular is still very much in the spotlight, and, as the president of the second-largest private university in South Carolina, it’s never far from my thoughts.
How do university leaders ensure a college degree remains a valuable investment?
The answer is that we must constantly examine our value proposition in today’s post-Great Recession society. At Anderson University, a number of things set us apart, making such an examination no easy task. While we are a university thriving in a challenging environment, we are also a private, faith-based, comprehensive institution with liberal arts and professional degree programs. What, then, is Anderson University’s role in the cultural, political and economic landscape of 2018?
The answer, unequivocally, is that we have an enormously important, exceedingly valuable role. That isn’t just a personal opinion. It’s backed by hard data.
Recently, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), of which Anderson University is a proud member, released the results of a groundbreaking study that quantified more than just the value of a college education. It explicitly made the case for Christian higher education, a cause for which AU has been committed since our founding in 1911.
The overall economic impact of the more than 140 U.S.-based CCCU institutions is staggering. Collectively we generate $60 billion annually for the US economy, which comes out to roughly $166 million per day. What’s more, CCCU institutions employ 340,000 people, who earn $17.8 billion in salary and benefits.
More locally, South Carolina is home to six CCCU institutions – Anderson University; Charleston Southern University; Columbia International University; Erskine College; North Greenville University; and Southern Wesleyan University. These six schools employ roughly 2,500 South Carolinians who support the education of more than 11,000 undergraduate and 3,500 graduate students. None of these institutions receive direct federal or state funds for operations, yet our students do receive federal and state grants and scholarships they can use at either public or private colleges and universities.
In light of the runaway federal deficit, and often-contentious debates in Congress on how best to allocate taxpayer dollars, cuts to grants and scholarships for college students wouldn’t be prudent. After all, you’ll not find many returns on investment better than that provided by Christian higher education.
For every $1 in federal grant money a student receives, CCCU institutions far more than match the investment, providing $5 in aid to that same student through their own grants and scholarships. When you drill down on the data, you find that the $470 million in annual grant aid provided by the federal government amounts to $9.7 billion in federal tax revenue.
Needless to say, a $9 billion profit is an incredible return on investment.
Of course, it’s not just dollars and cents. More than 35 percent of CCCU students provide out-of-classroom service to their communities, totaling 5.4 million hours every year. Graduation rates are high. And the default rate on student loans for CCCU graduates is 6.3 percent; the national average for all college graduates is much higher, standing at 11.5 percent.
Armed with this information, today AU is joining with another one of our partners – the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (SCICU) – to urge state lawmakers to consider more robust support for South Carolina merit-based scholarship funding. While I remain engaged with CCCU’s leadership in helping make the case for Christian higher education among our elected officials in Washington, a team from AU is headed to Columbia to support SCICU’s efforts here at home.
Given that lawmakers in Columbia are facing the same budgetary pressures as those in Washington, it’s a timely mission. As one of the fastest-growing institutions of higher learning in the nation, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the second largest private university in South Carolina, Anderson University has a major role to play in helping shape these discussions.
Our thesis is simple: Christian higher education is important to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the United States in general, and South Carolina specifically. In a political landscape scarred by the memory of the Great Recession, lawmakers have to ask hard questions and make bold decisions.
We certainly understand. In my view, however, it’s vitally important that when considering federal- and state-based aid funding, lawmakers should keep their focus on the people most affected: the college students on whom so much of our country’s future relies, and the young men and women schools like Anderson University so effectively educate.
Dr. Evans P. Whitaker, Ph,D., is the president of Anderson University, where he has served since 2002. He is a past member of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, having been appointed by then-Governor Nikki Haley, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.