Dordt College News

5 Myths about private nonprofit higher education

May 24, 2013

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities has compiled a document and video addressing nine myths about the education available at their member institutions, of which Dordt College is one.

We thought you’d be interested in this information along with some Dordt-specific information related to these myths. We’ve focused on five of NAICU’s myths in this issue. You can find NAICU’s complete “9 Myths” document and all of the sources they list at


Reality: Because of generous institutional student aid policies, private colleges remain affordable.


In 2012-13, average published tuition and fees was $29,056 (does not include room and board). On average, full-time undergraduates at private four-year colleges receive an estimated $15,680 in grant aid from all sources and tax benefits.

At Dordt

Published tuition and fees: $25,520
Average grant and loan package: $21,900
Percentage of students who receive aid:  99%
Over the last five years, tuition has increased from year to year, but Dordt has worked hard to keep the increase as low as possible, despite the economy.


Because students at private colleges graduate faster than their peers at public universities, they are more likely to avoid extra years of tuition and begin their careers earlier.

At Dordt

Attending Dordt can be cheaper than attending a public university where students often have to pay an extra year of two of tuition and delay the poing at which they begin earning a salary.

“We work very hard—both during advising and as we schedule classes—to make sure our students can get into the courses they need to graduate.”

Jim Bos, registrar

“No other degree would have challenged me more or helped prepare me to come up with ideas to help solve problems in our world. But receiving scholarships also makes me realize another reason I want an engineering degree. It puts me in a position to contribute to the needs of others and to do so generously.”

Lee Veldkamp, Oostburg, Wisconsin, in a letter to his scholarship donor.


Reality: Students at private colleges are as racially/ethnically and economically diverse as their peers at four-year public universities.


Approximately one-third of all undergraduates at four-year private colleges are minority students. 

At Dordt

Dordt ranks third on the list for “Most International” in the Midwest.

Our student body is 9 percent ethnic minority, higher than the Iowa ethnic minority population of 7 percent.

We have exchange programs with eight universities around the world—often these students come for one semester; they experience us, and we enlarge our world and increase our diversity.

Some of our international students receive need-based awards (unlike many schools) to make it possible for them to attend. Dordt could actually be cheaper than a public university for an international student. 

We enroll a relatively large number of local ethnic and international students.

“We’re making an effort to ensure diversity in our student body. We continue to encourage community-building so that all of our students benefit from each other’s presence."

Curtis Taylor, director of international students and programs


Private colleges enroll similar percentages of students from low-, middle-, and upper-income families as four-year public colleges. 

At Dordt

Most Dordt students come from middle-income families; a few are wealthy. Although few have no resources, most require financial assistance.

“I want to thank you for your thoughtfulness and the doors of opportunity that have been opened.”

Jodi Hibbard, first year agriculture major, in a letter of thanks to the donors of her scholarship.


Reality: The overwhelming majority of college borrowers have manageable loan levels.


Average debt per borrower among students who earned bachelor’s degrees from private colleges in 2011 was $29,900—compared to $23,800 for borrowers at public universities.

At Dordt

Average debt is $21,900.

In addition, Dordt students have a very low default rate on their college loans. Most years the rate has been below 1 percent. Three years ago it was 0 percent.

“Part of the difference is the work ethic. Many of our students have been brought up with the mindset that you don’t borrow if you don’t need to, and if you do, you pay it back as quickly as possible. I hesitate to call student debt a ‘crisis’ but it is something to watch. A sense of responsibility keeps it from being a crisis."

“The numbers can be scary, but college education is worth much more than a car.  Live like a pauper in school, work hard, borrow less, and you’ll be ahead when you graduate.”

Mike Epema, Dordt College director of financial aid.


Reality: Over the course of an individual’s lifetime, a college degree is still the best investment a person can make.


Between December 2007 and February 2012, people who had at least a bachelor’s degree gained 2.2 million jobs, while people with a high school diploma or less lost 5.8 million jobs.

The unemployment rate for people with at least a bachelor’s degree is just 3.9 percent (December 2012). This compares to the national unemployment rate of 7.8 percent, and an unemployment rate of 8.0 percent for people with just a high school degree.

By 2018, six in 10 American jobs (63 percent) will require some form of postsecondary education. Employers will need 22 million new workers with postsecondary degrees. Seven of the top 10 occupations require some type of postsecondary degree.

The overall median starting salary for the undergraduate class of 2012 is $44,455—a 3.4 percent increase over the class of 2011.

The median lifetime earnings for workers with bachelor’s degrees is $2.3 million. For workers with just a high school diploma, it is only $1.3 million.

At Dordt

The numbers

Placement rates: 2012, 95%; 2011—97%; 2010—98%; 2009—99%

94% has been the lowest annual rate over the last 10 years.

This figure compares to 85 percent and 89 percent at some of our sister colleges. You can usually find information about a school’s placement rate by checking their website.

“For every dollar spent, college grads are paid back four times over their lifetime in their ability to earn. There are definitely monetary benefits, but it is oh-so-much more than that. You will be unable to measure all that it does for you.”

Mike Epema

“I had the opportunity to grow and develop my sense of engagement in the world. It would have been nice to put a bigger down payment on a house and have a car that isn’t 12 years old, but my degree in engineering has opened up opportunities to do fulfilling work and engage in things I’m passionate about. It’s worth it, because when you think about it, a car only depreciates in value.”

Joel Sikkema (’09) professor of engineering at Dordt College

“At Dordt, I was able to tailor classes to prepare me for my career. Yes, education is an investment, but the rewards of learning from professors who challenged me in my faith and vocation, forming life-long relationships with other students, and participating in a wide variety of extra-curricular activities from music, sports, and service have far exceeded the investment. I would not have the worldview I have today or the belief that God can use me as a co-worker to bring about hope and healing through health and nutrition if I hadn’t studied at Dordt College.”

Kate Reinsma (’04), health and nutrition program manager for Samaritan’s Purse in Niger, West Africa.

“We don’t need mono-focused people. We need well-rounded people.”

David Boyes, tech employer interviewed on NPR’s “Marketplace” for a story on what employers want from college grads.


Reality: Enrollment at private colleges continues to grow, and the number of independent institutions has held steady for the past 30 years.  


Enrollment at private colleges and universities increased 1.8 percent in 2011, while total postsecondary enrollment in the United States declined slightly for the first time in 15 years, by 0.14 percent. In the past decade, enrollment at private colleges has grown 25 percent, and it is expected to continue to rise.

At Dordt

Dordt’s enrollment in 2012 was 1,400 students, steadily rising since 2005 (1,254 students).

Throughout the past 30 years, there have been times of rise and fall in enrollment due to economic factors such as the farm crisis in the ’80s. In the ’70s, enrollment was generally around 1,000 students. The highest enrollment was in 1999, with 1,430 students.

“I wanted to go to a smaller school, and I’ve had the same opportunities here that I would have had at a bigger school.”

Brianna Vande Woude (’13), NAIA national indoor track and field pentathlon champion

“‘Is a private college education worth the cost?’

My husband, Adam, and I have thought and talked about this a lot, especially as we consider what advice to give our kids when they are older. We think Dordt was definitely worth the cost, and we hope our children are motivated to go there. Dordt has a unique combination of a strong academic environment, faculty that cares about challenging and interacting with students, a clear mission of cultivating and exploring what a Reformed worldview is, and a wonderful tradition of fostering a living, learning, growing community for students. We agree that an important reason to go to college is to gain skills, knowledge, and the ability to think and communicate in your future vocation. However, an important task of college is also to start thinking through who you are and who you want to be. In the same way that it is easier to become an accountant if you have professors training you to think about business concepts and accounting standards, it is also easier to begin integrating your faith and life and vocation if you are exposed to professors and students and ideas that help you think about what a Reformed worldview might look like and how you might plan to work it out. The cost of a private, Christian college is an investment in who you are and who you want to be, both in terms of your vocation and your person.

Dr. Beth Blankespoor, assistant professor of accounting at the Stanford School of Business

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