One-on-One with Higher Ed Experts: Daniel DiBiasio, College Costs

President, Ohio Northern University

Ever wish you could get the college facts straight from the source—those higher ed MVPs like deans of admission, directors of financial aid, and executive coaches? Well, we’re bringing you the next best thing: a one-on-one chat with the people at the top! So keep reading for an expert take on the ins and outs of admission, college life, and campus survival.

This time, it’s a no-nonsense look at college costs—why they’ve ballooned over the past decades and what students and families can do to afford a college education in this day and age. We asked Daniel DiBiasio, President of Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, for his views regarding college affordability, making student loans work, and the reasons why tuition has skyrocketed in the first place. Keep reading for his insider college advice!

And if you have more questions you’d like to see answered by the experts, just check out our Ask the Experts section and send us your suggestions!

How should students and their families consider impending college costs during the college search and application process?

Students and families should consider college costs as an investment that will return educational, economic, and social dividends for a lifetime. More specifically, a university’s affordability, overall quality, job placement rate, and how a student thinks he or she will fit in should be paramount considerations. Students and families should first answer the best-fit question: what college(s) has the best academic program in my area of interest and provides the optimal collegiate environment and experience for success? Second, how can the student/family manage the cost of this best-fit college, realizing that affordability is a significant variable? Be sure to examine all sources of support—family savings and income, college-based financial aid, and state and federal aid, including grant and loan eligibility. Finally, gather information about recent student outcomes—not only job placement, but also graduate school admission, passage rates on professional exams (nursing, pharmacy, etc.), and alumni networks and engagement.

What factors have contributed to the ballooning tuition figures of the past 20 years?

I believe that two factors account for most of the spending increases in the last 20 years: the costs associated with total compensation of employees and technology. For both employer and employees, the steady rise in health insurance costs and premiums has been steep. In addition, the pervasive use of technology has been very expensive. In the service sector of higher education, it has made the enterprise better but not necessarily more efficient. But colleges are addressing this issue.

In fact, Ohio Northern University started The Ohio Northern Promise, our commitment to affordable excellence with an approach that addresses costs, completion, quality and return on investment. We are containing costs where possible. We are restructuring prices by increasingly lowering tuition levels through rate and cost reductions and/or freezes. This approach will lower tuition by 20 – 25 percent. We are helping more students to complete their degrees on time through a combination of curricular innovation and incentives. We are devoting more resources to helping students with career and graduate school placements, as well as sustaining a commitment to quality.

How might students consider the prospect of acquiring student loan debt?

First, complete the cost estimators and calculators provided on college and university websites and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Based on the results, consult with a college or university’s financial aid office staff. Be sure to seek information about all aspects of both government and privately financed lending—terms, conditions, consolidation opportunities, income-contingent options, etc. Finally, be sure to inquire about an institution’s loan default rate. This will provide a general gauge of how “manageable” student loan debt is for most graduates. Student loans, properly considered and held, can be cost-effective in enabling students to achieve their educational goals.

What do you see in the future of higher education and its costs?

Individually, colleges and universities will continue recent trends to contain and reduce costs, innovate with digital learning and hybrid courses, and sustain quality. Collectively, colleges and universities will establish more strategic partnerships, collaborations, and consortia arrangements that are mutually beneficial and hold promise for generating new revenue and reducing costs.

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