Colleges See Positive Aspects To A Bad Economy

Sep 10, 2009

It's the first week of school at Wright State University, and Cathy Davis has good reason to believe this year is going to be a busy one.

"We've seen an increase in transfer applications each year, but this year there's been a significant increase in applications we've received," says Davis, the Director of Admissions at Wright State.

Davis says that transfer applications are up 30%. It's enough that the school has even had to open a new office to help students transition onto campus. She says the reason is that students are leaving more expensive schools and coming to Wright State. She's heard stories from different families who are now changing their plans for college because of finances.

"Some of them of very heartbreaking for families as they're struggling to make decisions about higher education and whether it's even anymore in their possibility to pay for their son or daughter's education, something they've always planned on doing. Those plans have been changed very dramatically in the last year," says Davis.

Chase Cathcart changed his plans. He's beginning his sophomore year at Wright State, after completeing his freshman year at a more expensive school.

"It was a real concern for me. This is the time to making those kind of responsible decisions where I'm not borrowing, so that someday down the line I won't have to pay off more than I have to," says Cathcart.

Wright State is one of the least expensive public universities in Ohio. Tuition is just over $7,000 per year. A bigger enrollement is good for the college right now, because it's more dependent on tuition than on state funding. But even schools with a higher price tag are seeing some positive side effects to a down economy. Take the case of the University of Dayton, a private Catholic school. Paul Benson is the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He says that one thing they've seen this last year is a huge surge in applicants for faculty and staff position.

"We just saw explosions of applications. So, in the department of mathematics, for one entry level assistant professor position, we had 560 applications, which really caught folks by surprise," says Benson.

That's five times the normal number of resumes. While the aspiring professor may cringe to hear that, Benson says UD can be more selective in their choices for faculty. Because that pool is so large, it also means that the University can enhance the diversity of its staff and is hiring more women and minorities. A better faculty means schools are better equipped to handle whatever the educational needs of Ohio's changing work force might be.

Sean Creighton is hopeful. He's the Executive Director for the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.

"As much as it's unfortunate the job loss that has occured, it's exciting to be working in higher education and to see the impact higher education has had in the past, and to know the great impact that it will have in the future as we transition from a manufacturing base economy to a more creative economy," says Creighton.

He says the role of higher education in Ohio is more important than ever.

"People invest themselves during a down economy, and where do you go to invest in yourself? You go to school, you go to college, you go to the University," says Creighton.

Creighton says colleges are now working closely with the business community to find out what the future economy will look like. He gives as examples alternative energy use and something he calls advanced materials and manufacturing. That's a way to make cheaper and better products for industry. His hope is that higher education in Ohio will transition in step with tomorrow's work force.