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Boards Who Govern Colleges Have Different Take on Costs

Results from a new survey of higher education board members reveal a disconnect between their attitudes and public concern about college costs and completion.

Of the 2,500 board members surveyed by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, 55 percent think higher education in general is too expensive, relative to its value. At the same time, 62 percent believe that their institution costs what it should.

"While most board members collectively agree and feel that higher education has never been more important and changes are needed, many in the same breath feel that their institutions are doing fine," a statement from the AGB said. "The survey makes clear that boards are not clearly deciphering the public's concerns about higher education and must find a way to bridge the gap between the public's needs and wants and boards' response."

Public worry over tuition prices are mounting, as nearly 70 percent of families say they eliminated college choices because of cost, according to recent survey by Sallie Mae on paying for college. This was the highest level of concern over finances expressed in five years. To save money, the survey discovered students were living at home, adding a roommate, attending a community college, and reducing their spending.

In the new ABG poll, there is a perception (by 43 percent of governing board members) that their institution is doing all it can to keep tuition and fees affordable for students; another 29 percent say their institution could be doing more.

While the push is on to increase higher education completion, 21 percent of board members surveyed disagree that the United States needs more citizens to earn college degrees. Another 79 percent feel attainment rates should improve.

Sixty-six percent of respondents agree that their institution helps people lead better lives, yet 56 percent felt the same way about higher education in general.

The 2012 AGB survey, the third annual report on the topic, is aimed at encouraging a discussion on price and outcome among board members. Their attitudes are critical, as most all board members report that they have the power to approve tuition and fees.

"Boards must act on what they learn, as well as better explain higher education costs, pricing, and quality to the public. Until they do, the gap will continue to widen," according to the Washington-based ABG.

In the survey, 15 percent of the board members that responded served at public colleges, universities, or systems, and 85 percent served at independent colleges and universities.

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