Three of our sons are heading off to university this week and next. My oldest begins his final year at Purdue, my youngest his second year at University of Indianapolis, and our youngest his first year at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
That school was not our son’s first choice. It wasn’t anywhere on his list of preferred schools, actually. Unfortunately for our son, our family’s serious life challenges in 2017 and 2018 led us to be very late in the very important process of selecting a school. It limited our son’s options. IUPUI is a good school with several excellent programs, including a major in our son’s area of interest. But he chose IUPUI because it was available and affordable, not because he wanted to go there.
Our son will get a fine education at IUPUI. But he will attend his first classes there on Monday less than fully excited. Our bright and capable son applied to many very good schools and was accepted into every one. He was even accepted into my alma mater, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a high bar to clear. That tough little engineering school in Terre Haute, Indiana, has offered the best undergraduate engineering education in the nation for more than 10 years running, according to U.S. News and World Report.
College costs have ballooned nationwide since 1989, when I graduated from Rose. All four years cost roughly $60,000 then, which was considered a positively astronomical sum. In those days Rose was neck and neck with Notre Dame as the most expensive schools by far in Indiana.
Today, one year of Rose-Hulman costs about $60,000.
None of our son’s preferred schools offered enough financial aid, but Rose-Hulman’s offer fell the shortest by far. They offered thousands in grants and guaranteed student loans. They also assumed his mother and I would contribute a very large sum, one that we would have found very challenging to pay. But even after all of those funds were applied Rose wanted $37,000 more, and advised our son to seek private student loans in that amount.
We looked into those loans. The only ones we could find began compounding interest immediately. At the offered interest rate, that $37,000 would have ballooned to nearly $60,000 by the time he graduated. If he had to borrow that much each of his four years, with interest those private loans would total about $201,000 upon graduation.
I cannot justify that kind of debt even for the best undergraduate engineering education in the nation. Very good engineering educations are available for far, far less money at other schools.
I called Rose’s financial aid office hoping that my alumnus status might open a door. Nope. The woman I spoke to was very kind, apologetic even, but said that on appeal the most our son would get was an extra thousand dollars.
Rose-Hulman is now simply out of reach for a family with middle-class (or less) money.
Small, private colleges are struggling to survive across America. Rose-Hulman, I believe, saw it coming. As they quadrupled the cost of admission over the last 30 years, they also built a world-class campus that can attract the elite (read: wealthy), who can pay. I hardly recognize the place; the campus I attended in the 1980s was spare, almost ramshackle. Rose did this so it could continue its mission. Reluctantly, I have to say I can’t blame them.
But as a once proud alumnus, as the son of a factory worker who had a life-changing experience at Rose, as someone to whom his Rose-Hulman education has paid lifelong dividends, I’m disappointed to the core.
I’ve written many times about my Rose-Hulman experiences; click here to read it all.