College choice no small decision

During my nine years on the board of trustees of Indiana University, I discovered some things that everyone should know before starting college.

First, should you to go to college at all? If so, then which college is best for you?

College is even more expensive than you might think. Of the 70 percent of those who graduate owing loans, the average debt is $35,000. In addition, those students have foregone the income that they could have earned if they had worked instead of attending college.

Even so, university presidents always cite figures that show college graduates earn much more money over their lifetime than non-college grads. But this is a false comparison, since those who enter college have, on average, higher abilities and would have earned much more anyway.

But in the end, you will need to go to go to college to acquire the degree that employers expect in order to offer you a high-paying job.

So which college is right for you? Many students do not know what they want to major in until they sample what’s available, so if you enroll in a college with a large number of majors, you won’t have to transfer to continue your education.

If you do transfer to another college, generally, credits will transfer easily, but it’s up to individual departments whether credits will count towards your major and minor; many departments will make you start over.

Will you get a better undergraduate education at Ivy League or other renowned (and expensive) universities? They might have world-famous faculty members, but you will mostly be taught by graduate assistants in your early years.

Looking at colleges in Indiana, I was very pleased with my undergraduate degree from Purdue and my law degree from IU, but you may have needs that are better met elsewhere.

Many will have trouble graduating; at Purdue, in the 1950s, I felt that I was just a number and nobody cared if I made it or not. Since then the number of students at both West Lafayette and Bloomington have quadrupled, so it’s even worse.

You need to be a self-starter. The graduation rate at Bloomington is 77 percent, and at West Lafayette, it is 75 percent.

You might do better at one of our excellent small, private colleges. Tuition there is high, unless you can get financial aid. However, attending just the first year at one can give you the experience to transfer and make it on a large university campus.

At these small colleges, most of your classes will be taught by actual professors. At large universities, faculty advance their careers through research, so faculty only teach two courses a semester and, in the case of the sciences, only one. At the small private colleges, research is not emphasized as much, so professors teach.

Other options include Ball State (56 percent graduation rate), Indiana State (35 percent graduation rate) and the regional campuses of IU and Purdue.

I would not have recommended IUPUI 20 years ago, because its graduation rate was about 20 percent. During my time as trustee, I was able to get much more tutoring available and replace many of the poor quality part-time instructors with full-time non-tenured track faculty who only teach. Now the graduation rate is 40 percent, which is much better — but it’s still a challenge to get a degree.

It’s also possible to start at Ivy Tech, where tuition is lower, and then transfer credit hours. However, if you want an associate’s degree, you should know that the graduation rate there is only 4 percent.

The bottom line is that you can go anywhere and succeed, if you are willing to work at it.

Ray Richardson, a former state lawmaker, currently serves as Hancock County attorney.