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You don’t know what you don’t know

“You don’t know what you don’t know.” We use this aphorism a lot around the WAICU office. I could not find an attribution, but, regardless of the source, the phrase reminds us to avoid glib assumptions and arrogance. When making decisions, we should keep in mind that our decisions will be better if we become educated, seeking the broadest and best information. We also are reminded to be humble and not assume that we “know it all.” Sometimes I find myself rephrasing this aphorism to “I didn’t know what I thought I knew.”

Here are some examples of assertions that do not pan out if you look at the facts:

Assertion: Private colleges are not affordable for regular people.

Fact: The average net undergraduate tuition (price minus student aid) at Wisconsin’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities is currently $5,239. Net tuition at WAICU members has been under $5,500 for the last seven years. More than 96 percent of all full-time undergraduate students receive financial aid, and over 75 percent of that aid is in grants, not loans. WAICU-member colleges and universities enroll and graduate a larger percentage of minority, low-income, and first-generation students than does the University of Wisconsin System.

Assertion: Private colleges and universities drain funds away from public colleges and from Wisconsin students.

Fact: In Wisconsin, private, nonprofit colleges and universities receive no general operating support from the taxpayers. Wisconsin students attending public or private colleges in Wisconsin are eligible for state student aid programs. This is aid for Wisconsin students attending a Wisconsin college or university. Out-of-state and international students enrolled in private colleges and universities do not receive direct or indirect support from Wisconsin taxpayers.

Combining general operational support and student grant support to students, the state taxpayer cost of a degree at the UW system is over $130,000. The WAICU per-degree cost (for student aid) to taxpayers is about $10,000 – a bargain for state taxpayers.

Assertion: There simply are not jobs for college graduates – particularly for liberal arts grads.

Fact: Studies have shown that liberal arts grads actually earn more in their peak earning years than graduates in other fields. A recent study showed that the much-maligned “Art History” major will earn $340,000 more in a lifetime than a high school graduate. It is estimated that 62 percent of the jobs in Wisconsin will require a postsecondary education. Already today there are shortages in engineering, medicine and healthcare, and education. WAICU members produce 24 percent of four-year bachelor’s degree graduates every year and 37 percent of all graduates with advanced degrees. In critical occupations, we produce 100 percent of dentists, 58 percent of medical doctors, 52 percent of physician assistants, 30 percent of pharmacy majors, 53 percent of four-year BSN nurses, and 30 percent of engineers. At the graduate school level, we produce 46 percent of business graduates, and 61 percent of teacher education graduates.

Assertion: Students in private colleges are drowning in debt, and graduates will be unable to buy their first home.

Fact: The average indebtedness of students in public and private universities in Wisconsin is under $29,000, less than the average price of a new car, now over $33,000. Nationwide, the student loan default rate is 11.8 percent, across all sectors. In Wisconsin, the default rate is 9.2 percent, while at WAICU-member colleges and universities the default rate is down to 4.4 percent. It has also been documented that college graduates are, in fact able to secure that first mortgage for a new home. It is those students who fail to graduate who are struggling to find jobs, pay off the loan, and to buy a home. Here again the comment in this essay on the superior four-year graduation rate at private, nonprofit colleges and universities is relevant.

Assertion: Private colleges and universities are “living in the past.”

Fact: A Wisconsin private university was the first, public or private institution of higher learning in the state to offer complete degree programs on-line. WAICU members were also the first to establish flexible degree programs, night and weekend programs for adult learners, credit for prior learning, etc., while preserving and enhancing what is proven to add value to a quality degree. For example, the average class size at a WAICU member is just 17 students, allowing for individualized instruction and personal attention.

Assertion: Private colleges are . . . well . . . private; that is to say unwelcoming, standoffish, and exclusive.

Fact: Nearly 60,000 students have made the choice to attend a WAICU-member college or university. About two-thirds of those are from Wisconsin. WAICU colleges and universities are far from exclusionary or elitist. They are welcoming, diverse, focused on educating for today’s and tomorrow’s opportunities, and are affordable. Moreover, Wisconsin’s private colleges and universities are open to students of every color and creed. By definition, universities granted nonprofit status operate as a “public good and a public service.” We are just as much contributing and proud citizens of Wisconsin as are government-supported institutions.

Did you know?


Rolf Wegenke, Ph.D.