Attractive tuition rates draw students to Nevada colleges

Affordability is what’s bringing some college students to Nevada this fall.

Even though students will pay a little more this year, tuition and fees at the state’s colleges and universities remain lower than at higher education institutions in other Western states.

“This is the most financially affordable school for me,” said Paige Silva, 17, who moved from Hawaii to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Other schools were completely un­attainable.”

Silva is among the many freshmen who took cost into consideration when they decided to attend UNLV to pursue their bachelor’s degrees. UNLV officials expect the largest incoming freshman class this fall semester, with about 3,600 students. Classes begin Monday.

In recent years as states grappled with budget cuts, students saw skyrocketing college tuition costs. But public education institutions in Nevada remain more affordable than institutions in states that are part of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

In 2011-12, the average under­graduate resident tuition for Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education members was $6,908. The same year, the Nevada System of Higher Education average under­graduate resident tuition was $6,240, according to a 2012 NSHE Committee on Access and Affordability report.

This academic year, resident undergraduate students at UNLV and the University of Nevada, Reno will pay $191.50 per credit. That’s an increase from the $171 cost per credit last year. Resident undergraduate students at Nevada State College will pay $138.25 per credit, an increase from $123.50.

Still, the estimated cost for resident undergraduate tuition and fees for 15 credits in 2013-14 is $6,872. Compare that to the estimated cost for resident undergraduate tuition and fees at the University of California, Davis, which is $13,902 for 2013-14.

However, many students in the Silver State take more than four years to graduate, which can increase their college costs even if tuition remains low.

KEEPING COLLEGE AFFORDABLE

Last week, White House officials released information on President Barack Obama’s plan to make college more affordable. It showed, “The average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250 percent over the past three decades.”

The president’s plan would tie federal student aid to college performance.

Nevada has traditionally been a low-tuition state, said Norm Bedford, director of financial aid and scholarship at UNLV.

“The state has done a good job in keeping tuition low,” he said.

Allison Relyea arrived at UNLV this week from New York City.

“I wanted to live on the West Coast,” the 18-year-old said on Thursday as her parents helped her settle into her dormitory.

“It’s a little bit cheaper, even (for) out-of-state,” said her mother, Michelle Relyea.

California resident Mari McComb was drawn to UNLV for its hospitality management major and also for the price tag.

“It’s very affordable compared to other schools, especially to California schools,” said the 18-year-old, whose father is helping pay her college costs.

Allison’s parents also saved up to help pay for her college education. They don’t want her to take out any loans.

That’s for graduate school, her mother said.

Four-year college students in Nevada graduate with less debt than their peers across the nation, according to a study released early this past week by NerdWallet, a financial consumer website.

Nevada ranked as the third-best state for student debt because the average debt incurred is significantly lower than the national average. Data for 2011 under­graduate students was used for the study that looked at average debt per student and the percentage of graduates that took out student loans.

The state averages are based on 1,057 colleges that reported their data, which represents about 55 percent of all public and nonprofit four-year colleges and 79 percent of all bachelor’s degree recipients, according to Julia Baily with NerdWallet.

The states that ranked best had afford­able public schools and offered a lot of state-based scholarships, said Divya Raghavan, a senior analyst who worked on the study.

“The University of Nevada (system) had a lot of merit and need-based scholar­ships,” she said.

EXPANDING FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE

But Nevada State College President Bart Patterson said the state actually needs to find a way to provide more state financial aid. Even if tuition is low, there’s more to college costs than just that.

Beyond federal aid, institutions don’t offer as much assistance as they would like to have, Patterson said.

That would help eliminate the need for students to have part-time jobs or take out loans.

More than half of the student population at the Henderson-based college work part-time, he said. That can contribute to delay in completing their degrees.

The average credit load for degree-seeking students at Nevada State College is 10.

“We can develop more financial aid so they don’t have to work,” Patterson said.

Still, he didn’t want to undermine the affordability of higher education in Nevada.

“I really think that, particularly in Nevada, tuition is still a really good value proposition to the student,” Patterson said.

About 44 percent of Nevada undergraduate students in 2011 graduated with debt, according to the study. Their average debt was $19,954. Three four-year institutions in the state submitted data for the study.

The worst state was New Hampshire, where about 75 percent of students acquire debt and the average debt is $32,440, according to the study.

Some Nevada colleges also do a good job in educating students about finances, including loans, Raghavan said.

“I think that definitely makes a difference,” she said. “A lot of students don’t understand what they are signing up for” when applying for loans.

At the University of Nevada, Reno, the average financial aid package for students is $8,500, according to spokeswoman Nicole Shearer. About 30 percent of the students receive Pell Grants, need-based grants for low-income students.

At Nevada State College, the average financial aid package is $7,539 and about 29 percent of students receive the Pell Grant, according to spokeswoman Mandi Enger.

About 70 percent of all UNLV students receive some form of financial aid in the form of grants, loans or scholarships, such as the state-based Millennium Scholarship, according to Afsha Bawany, spokeswoman at UNLV.

During the 2012-13 academic year, $9.2 million in Millennium Scholarships was disbursed to 6,000 undergraduates, according to UNLV statistics.

During the same year, $30.8 million was distributed to close to 8,300 UNLV students in Pell Grants, which is a federal grant based on need.

Dianne Esteller, 18, from Las Vegas, will be attending UNLV, and she is a Millennium Scholarship recipient. She said she is getting $960 per semester from the scholarship, which will help keep her from taking out loans.

“It does make a difference. Everything counts in college. I’m trying to stay away from loans. I just don’t like loans. I don’t want to end up with debt after school.”

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

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