Affordability has become an even greater factor in a student’s decision about where to attend college. Rising prices have hit household budgets hard as the fall semester begins.

Record numbers of college students have filed federal student aid forms this year, and they are asking for more money than ever. Nationally, 8.9 million students sought student aid during the first half of 2008, an increase of 16.3 percent over the same period last year, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.

When it comes to price and price alone, private institutions have always been at a disadvantage when their tuition is compared with state universities. But value is no less important for students considering such decisions, and this year’s findings by U.S. News & World Report put Howard Payne University near the top of two important lists. For starters, those national rankings for “America’s Best Colleges 2009,” found Howard Payne University in the “Top 10” of Best Baccalaureate Colleges in the Western Region. HPU placed ninth, and it's the first time the university has been included in this elite category.

No less critical to students contemplating their future in higher education is the university’s climb in the “Best Value” category of “Comprehensive Colleges — Bachelor’s” in the Western region. Howard Payne moved up to No. 2 from third in this category last year.

Even before fuel prices soared and the economy started sputtering, paying for college was a challenge for most students and their parents. Now, Congress has increased the amount students can borrow under the federal Stafford loan program and loosened requirements for federal PLUS loans that allow parents to borrow on behalf of their children. But when families are at risk of losing their homes because of the mortgage crisis, a college education might become a luxury they can’t afford.

Fortunately for Texans, those economic woes have not been as pronounced as they’ve become in other areas of the nation. But higher prices for food, gasoline and almost everything else may be forcing some would-be students into the job market, at least temporarily. How all this will affect enrollments won’t be known until head counts are reported in a few weeks.

Howard Payne students are generally looking for more than just a degree as they attend classes, and they find that the unique university experience available in Brownwood meets their requirements for the ultimate “value” in a place of higher education. Texas and America needs more students and college graduates like them, because our future depends on a new generation of well-educated, motivated and principled citizens in places of business and community leadership.

Brownwood Bulletin