Higher education in the USA faces a crisis of soaring operational expenses and shrinking government support, which has inevitably led to higher attendance costs for students. Many smaller institutions are under pressure to expand their educational offerings while simultaneously keeping the college dream affordable for current and prospective students.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics in 2013 there were 3,039 four-year colleges in the USA (nces.ed.gov). The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities states that there are 3.45 million undergraduate students enrolled in private, nonprofit colleges and universities and that there are 1,682 independent (private) four-year colleges and universities (www.naicu.edu). Zack Friedman of Forbes maintains that in 2017 there were more than 44.2 million borrowers with $1.31 trillion in student loan debt outstanding, making it the second highest consumer debt category. (www.forbes.com). Student loan default and delinquency rates are on the rise. While we realize a sizable percentage of this debt is for graduate education, most educators agree that undergraduate debt is reaching levels that concern many families.
Taken together, a college education is increasingly financially unattainable for millions of students in the United States. Families often consider cost even above academic criteria, and 88% of students have rejected a school outright because of cost. In 2016, 15% of students had to forgo enrollment at their top school choice because they could not afford it. The numbers are even worse for minority students.
In 2017, in response to these pressures, 19 independent colleges and universities united to create the Lower Cost Models for Independent Colleges (LCMC) Consortium. The Consortium brings together presidents, chief financial officers, chief academic officers/provosts, and engaged faculty members and administrators to: 1) share information on each college’s individual cost cutting programs; 2) discuss important curricular initiatives that are in the active planning phase; and 3) set in motion the possibility of additional shared initiatives. Together, now with over 90 institutions, we aim to create more sustainable models for students and institutions in the four-year higher education sector.
Our goal is to create innovative, collaborative solutions to expand educational opportunities for students while streamlining and lowering institutional costs. We believe the two can go hand in hand, with ingenuity and a shared sense of purpose. Our intention is to disseminate information about this work to the broader higher education community—particularly the 680 independent colleges affiliated with the Coalition of Independent Colleges—through articles, workshops, and higher education journals.
The LCMC evolved from the leadership of Lasell University President Michael Alexander, President Emerita of Mills College Dr. Janet Holmgren, as well as philanthropic organizations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Davis Educational Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation.
Our first two projects were a shared credential in Certified Financial Planning and a shared undergraduate Computer Science curriculum, developed in partnership with Google. These programs served as pilot initiatives, testing a new model for programs of study that can be shared across multiple LCMC member institutions.
In 2019, Adrian College President Dr. Jeffrey Docking brought a young company, Rize Education, to be incubated on the Adrian campus. In Rize, the LCMC has a small team dedicated full time to expanding on our early success. Using the shared programs model, Rize is helping LCMC schools develop new shared majors, using curricula developed in collaboration with top academic experts and taught by our own faculty.
With the help of Rize, LCMC members now have access to 20+ new degree programs, in the highest-growth fields, and the ones most demanded by our members.