President's Message on College Affordability
August 10, 2012
Sacred Heart University was recently included in a list of least affordable colleges in America put out by Newsweek. We believe the methodology used to determine the rankings is seriously flawed.
The rankings look at four factors: debt, total cost, financial aid and future earnings. The greatest weakness in the survey’s data set is its method for assessing future earnings. The survey uses the starting median salary of graduates and their mid-career salary, according to PayScale – a website that only has salary information from those who go there and fill it out. In the case of Sacred Heart, that is less that 1 percent of the total alumni body. The methodology also ignores additional key factors. For example, when the survey determines “affordability,” it looks only at salaries from graduates with bachelor’s degrees who have not gone on to further study. A much larger percentage of Sacred Heart students go on to professional graduate schools in business, law and the health professions than nationally (which typically leads to highly paid jobs) and are thus omitted from this study.
The salary component is also biased against schools like Sacred Heart that have experienced significant change and growth in the past 30 years. The profile of today’s students is vastly different from that of the alumni contributing mid-career salary data. The mid-career graduates referenced in the survey attended a much different university than Sacred Heart is today – it was a commuter school with fewer academic programs. The methodology assumes that the college experience of both sets of students was the same and will lead to similar career growth. This assumption is much less of an issue for nearby Yale – ranked the 14th most affordable school by Newsweek – which has been in existence for more than 300 years. That Sacred Heart graduates enter the workplace with a median salary ($44,800) competitive to that of their Yale counterparts ($50,700) supports our contention that this survey is flawed.
The survey also cites student debt. At Sacred Heart, we provide 92 percent of our students with financial aid. We do that because many of them would not be able to otherwise attend college. Despite the high percentage of students with aid, Sacred Heart students have a loan default rate of 1.8 percent that is well below the national average of 8.8 percent. We are proud of our remarkable record of educating students from a variety of backgrounds and financial needs. In keeping with our mission, we provide students with a focus on living lives of service to others. Many of our graduates go on to do just that, in the public and private sectors, and we are proud of that, too.
It’s unfortunate that a survey such as this –which misrepresents the value of an education at many schools like Sacred Heart – receives more credibility than it deserves. We remain committed to doing all we can to make a Sacred Heart education affordable for all. We work hard to keep our costs down and to explore all avenues of revenue to help our students finance their education.