Return on Investment

Fall 2017

Charles Brian Conn

Editor’s note: This article is part of a feature series on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

I once heard a sales pitch for concentrated liquid soap that said, “When you buy that big jug of diluted dish soap, you know what you’re paying all that money for? Water. Such a waste to spend good money on something you don’t need!” It was compelling. But there’s a troubling trend to reduce all transactions to this simple arithmetic – even the complex process of choosing a college or university. The life-changing experience of a college degree is likened to selecting a household cleaner: Don’t spend even a dollar on something you don’t need. This mentality of reducing one’s college experience to a mechanical financial transaction eviscerates the possibilities for our young people who desire more than just a diploma on the wall.

Lee University, like other Christ-centered liberal arts institutions, is a place dedicated to doing more than just training people for careers in academic or professional fields, but also to prepare them for lives pleasing to God in service to their fellow man. Our students understand there are places like Lee where the college experience has a value that transcends the dollar amount – where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They understand that this kind of experience costs more to deliver and that it is worth the investment – even the sacrifice – to pursue it.

That doesn’t mean we don’t focus on maintaining affordability. At Lee, we are working hard to operate efficiently, extend the reach of our resources, and deliver effective financial aid solutions. We are proud to be among the most affordable universities of our kind, and we know there are many like us engaged in this constant mission. We enjoy seeing our graduates leading fulfilling lives in communities near and far.

One such graduate is Victoria Tropiano Winchester. She is a native of Haddonfield, New Jersey, and when it came to choosing a college, she had plenty of nearby choices: “My classmates were going in a lot of different directions. Many were attending Ivy League schools, several were going to Rutgers-Camden, and some were going to Camden County Community College.”

Victoria weighed her options. She had a tough decision to make. “I knew I wanted to go to a private Christian school, but I looked at College of New Jersey, because that would have been a complete slash in tuition compared to the alternative,” she says. “I knew I wouldn’t get the same experience at a state school, however, so I looked for schools that would provide the Christian environment I wanted to study in.”

Victoria wanted to head south and wanted to find a distinctly Christian environment. She searched Google for “Christian colleges in the South.” This led her to Lee’s web presence. “I loved the website,” she says, “and then I toured the actual campus and could tell that it was really a Christian college, versus the ones that are called that but where faith is not a centerpiece of everyday campus life.”

So she weighed the costs and made the decision to enroll. Victoria navigated the four-year college path at Lee with distinction. Her financial aid package was a varied mix of institutional, external, and federal aid and student loans. When asked if she had balked at the idea of borrowing for college, she responds plainly, “I knew with a state school, it would be cheaper, and I knew after graduation from a private Christian university that there would be debt involved. … When I sit down to write that student loan check, I just think that is part of the investment.”

Victoria earned her bachelor’s in public relations in 2013. She has made her home in the South with her new husband, Justin, and works as communications manager at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Chattanooga. She, like many Lee alumni (and indeed, many CCCU alumni around the world), recognizes that her time at Lee was about more than just gaining the training she needed for her career: “When I attended Lee, I grew spiritually. The dollar amount doesn’t outweigh the spiritual growth.”

Charles Brian Conn is director of public relations at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee.