Buena Vista president:
Education is an investment
October 8, 2013
Higher education as an investment - while the potential is recognized among individual students, in a world of rising costs and funding cuts, it is important for the community to understand the concept as well, Buena Vista University President Frederick Moore told the Carroll Rotary Club Monday afternoon.
"It isn't just an expense," he said. "It promotes the public good in the sense that a more-educated citizenry leads to all kinds of benefits, both economic and otherwise."
Over the course of 40 years in the workforce, an individual with a bachelor's degree earns two-thirds more than an employee whose education stopped at a high school diploma, Moore said. The implications of this difference have been recognized, not only by recent high school graduates, but increasingly by adults who return to school, often as nontraditional students at community colleges.
While BVU's Storm Lake campus houses a traditional institution with residence halls and nearly 50 different areas of study, the university also offers online programs and partners with community colleges in 15 additional locations, including Des Moines Area Community College campus in Carroll.
This variety of formats works well for working adults, the primary demographic served by graduate and professional studies programs through partnerships with local colleges, said Moore. The average age of that student is 29, and there is a 75 percent chance that the student is a woman.
While some students who complete their degrees through community college campuses are traditional students, most are people who were unable to complete their degree for familial or financial reasons, or because they lacked interest at the time. Moore said the primary motivations to return to school are similar today as when BVU started the program nearly 40 years ago.
"First is the personal fulfillment from finishing the degree, which I think is very important," he said. "Second is that it certainly increases marketability," he continued, adding that community colleges saw a spike in enrollment following the economic panic that kicked off the recent recession.
Though enrollment numbers have leveled off in recent years, they remain steady.
"There is a growing recognition that jobs of the future certainly are going to require more and more education," said Moore.
BVU's partnership with DMACC in Carroll began in 2009. It has grown to incorporate 16 different bachelor's degree options through six eight-week terms each year, including business, education, psychology, human services and criminal justice, which Moore cites as some of the most popular.
"Carroll is a vibrant business community, and progressive in nature," said Moore, explaining that BVU had been interested in serving the market for several years before taking advantage of an offer from DMACC to get involved. "We're always the guest of the community college, which makes it very user-friendly for students to finish their degrees."
DMACC provost Steve Schulz said that the partnership with BVU was motivated by the community's communication of its desire to have access to a four-year business degree.
"It's another program that enhances what we do at DMACC," said Shulz. "Students seeking two- and four-year degrees now have access without leaving the town or the region, and that was the goal."
According to Shulz, only 25 percent of the Carroll population has completed a bachelor's degree. This program provides an opportunity to finish degrees while working and raising a family - and at only about one-third of the usual cost, he added.
Moore has no problem acknowledging this difference. The programs available through community colleges do not require the expenses of maintaining classroom buildings or residence halls as through a traditional campus. The adult students are also not generally interested in co-curricular activities because they already lead very busy lives that can include children, full-time jobs and aging parents.
"They balance a lot," Moore said of the nontraditional students, stating that many of them are single mothers. "That's one of the reasons it's very rewarding for use to be a part of helping them realize their education dreams. It's very inspiring when they come to campus for commencement."
Moore said that BVU is also increasing its non-degree offerings, such as professional-development programs for teachers.
"It's a natural extension of our mission," said Moore. "We have always been somewhat nontraditional in focus because we served working adults. We know how to do it, and we've done it for a long time."
Though unprepared now to unveil any new initiatives, Moore said, the university is developing a program to coordinate with the vocational certificates and degrees many students receive from the community colleges BVU partners with.
"It's a good thing for the state," Moore said of the steady presence of vocational education. "We're going to need skilled laborers in order to be able to attract and sustain the types of industry we want, as well as people to occupy more white-collar roles. You need both."
So far, 23 individuals have graduated through the BVU program at DMACC, including 15 graduates last spring. BVU's reach also extends outside Iowa through its online program, which employs faculty from 26 states and teaches students in 16 states. The Storm Lake campus includes students from 26 states and 11 countries.
"We've made an earnest effort in the area of international education in recent years primarily because students will work in the workplace of today ... with people whose backgrounds differ from their own and people from all around the world," said Moore. "We thought it very important to make the foray into international education both in terms of recruitment and opportunities for students from Storm Lake to travel and study abroad. It's been key to enriching the quality of the experience for everyone."
These goals are reflected in the efforts of BVU's "See Tomorrow" capital campaign, which will close at the end of the week. The largest campaign in the school's history, it has involved 5,700 donors and alumni. In addition to a new football field, the campaign has established 155 scholarships, 28 travel funds and 22 internship or research funds.
"The thought of traveling internationally for a first-generation family whose income is not as high can be a real daunting prospect, yet we all know the transformative power of those kinds of experiences," said Moore, noting that more than half of BVU's students qualify for state and federal financial aid. "Not all internships are funded, but they're all valuable. We want to remove cost as a barrier for students who want that opportunity."
He closed his speech to Rotary members with a few warnings, citing a concern for education programs in the long term. Faced with "brain drain," Moore reminded attendees that the Iowa Tuition Grant Program accounts for only 1 percent of the state's education funding but contributes to 48 percent of Iowa's undergraduate degrees, affecting many BVU students, nearly 90 percent of whom remain in the region.
He also voiced unease with President Barack Obama's recent proposal to allocate financial aid funding based on school performance rather than individual need, calling it "well-intentioned, but perhaps misguided."
"It would be fine if every institution served the same type of student and had the same mission," he said. However, a school that takes "calculated risks" on students without the "best credentials" in order to give them a chance at higher education will never have the same graduation rate as an elite school that admits only the highest-performing high school seniors. Regions need both to enable a greater amount of the population to invest in education, he reminded.
"A lot of people question whether a college education is even worth it today. I'm here to tell you it is," he said. "The economic case is clear, and that ignores all the benefits the come from the education process itself. You learn more about yourself and the world around you, and you learn how to learn, which is important in any job."
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