By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Wouldn’t it be great if the tuition you paid to send your son or daughter to a Catholic college or university was similar to the tuition you paid to send them to a Catholic high school? You’d have about the same budget you’ve been used to for four years. And in these tricky economic times, that would be welcome.
“Catholic colleges are traditionally expensive. Quit dreaming,” you say.
It’s not a dream, not at Avila University.
Avila recently announced the beginning of a new tradition — the Avila University Guarantee. As of January 2012, Catholic high school graduates who attend Avila starting in their freshman year will be guaranteed a minimum $10,000 in scholarship each year for four years.
“We don’t want families to dismiss the idea of a private, Catholic university,” said Ron Slepitza, Ph.D., Avila University’s president. “We want to promote, ‘Wow, maybe we should consider Avila.’”
Avila was founded in 1916 as the College of St. Teresa, and has always been committed to Catholic education and values. The institution has a long history of welcoming students of all faiths and backgrounds. Now, Slepitza said, in these tough economic times, with state and federal tuition assistance shrinking, school officials felt it was right to embrace more strongly its Catholic roots and offer further assistance to Catholic high school graduates and guarantee that assistance over the four years of a college education.
“We want to make the net tuition at Avila comparable to what a family paid to send their child to a Catholic high school,” Slepitza said. To figure net tuition, add together tuition, books and supplies, and subtract federal, state and institutional scholarships and grants. (Loans don’t come into play here because they must be paid back, with interest, after the student graduates.) Net tuition does not include room, board and fees including technology and student activity fees. Avila’s full time undergraduate tuition is estimated at $23,100. Minus the Avila Guarantee, the net tuition would be $13,100. And eligible students would still be able to apply for other federal, state and institutional (including academic or athletic) scholarships and grants.
Slepitza added that when the Avila Guarantee was under discussion and preliminary planning, he and the planning team reviewed the latest data available (2009) on local college tuitions, on collegenavigator.org, and discovered that Avila’s undergraduate tuition was less than the University of Kansas and UMKC.
Students narrow the list of where they would like to go to college, but parents have a lot of input on the final decision, Slepitza said. A sizeable percentage of Avila students are the first in their family to attend college and as such their parents have little experience in making financial decisions concerning college.
Slepitza said he heard a number of parents say they could not afford an independent private college at this time — with the up-and-down stock market and increasing unemployment, it didn’t seem likely that a private college would be a good return on their investment.
“I turned the tables on that idea a bit,” he said. “I thought wouldn’t it be great to be able to tell those parents ‘you made an investment paying tuition at a Catholic high school. With the Avila Guarantee, not only does a private Catholic university become affordable, you get a return on your high school investment.’ Here are all these schools (public, private, and Catholic) that want students. The Guarantee is a return for all the sacrifices parents made to send their kids to Catholic high schools, and probably to Catholic grade schools before that.”
Catholic high schools and colleges help play a role in the development of Catholic leaders, Slepitza said. Parish leadership, for example, most likely went to Catholic high schools and colleges. Avila would like to graduate more Catholic leaders, and the Avila Guarantee seems a good way to stimulate future attendance by leaders, he said. “We currently have 900 undergraduates enrolled. We would like to grow to 1,200 in 3-5 years.”
Brandon Johnson, Avila director of undergraduate admissions, concurred with Slepitza’s view of the Avila Guarantee.
“When the guarantee was announced to the admissions staff,” he said, “there was true excitement around here. Catholic is truly who we are and to be able to communicate that to students and their parents is a big advantage. We wholeheartedly embraced it and it’s been a positive as we approached recruitment and college fairs.”
Johnson said the university recruits students in Kansas and Missouri, including St. Louis, metropolitan Des Moines, and the metropolitan areas of Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.
“We’ve received very positive feedback,” he said. “Parents show their dedication to Catholic education and they appreciate that we’ve noticed their dedication and sacrifice and we appreciate them.”
It’s a guarantee, not a scholarship, he said. “It shows that we appreciate and approve of what parents have done for their children. The guarantee lets Avila fit into the ballpark cost of UMKC, KU and MU. It’s not such a budgetary shock.”
What about students who did not attend Catholic high schools? “The reality of Avila is that we have a high population of non-Catholic students,” Johnson said. “Some of them may have attended a Catholic high school, but most did not. They are not left in the cold. There are plenty of scholarships, both need-based and academic, and plenty of financial aid to help make Avila affordable for everyone who wants to attend. But, it is important for us to remember who and what Avila is — a Catholic university.”
Slepitza looked out the window of his office at the campus: students changing classes, chatting with friends. “Attractive campus, strong academics and, with the Avila Guarantee, affordability. What’s wrong with this picture?” he asked. “Nothing!”
For more information, contact the Office of Admission at 816-501-2400, or visit www.avila.edu/catholic.