Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Higher Education in Going Broke

These graduates spent so much on their education that they could not even afford pants. (Photo by Melissa Johnson on Unsplash)

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the rising costs of higher education in the United States.

As the parent of “rising” high school senior with "falling" income who is fresh from a two-day, three-university, 600-mile tour of prospective Northeastern institutions, I CANNOT say this is true.

Only because the astronomical price tags have left me completely speechless.

According to The College Board, the not-for-profit American association of standardized tests driving high schoolers batty since:

a) 1492
b) The Jazz Age
c) That time a train traveling 65 miles per hour west from New York City passed a bicyclist heading to Los Angeles from Scranton, Pa., at 14 mph

the average tuition rate at public and private institutions has gone up an average of 5 percent annually for the past decade.

So this coming school year, you will go in debt to the tune of about $23,890 a year if your kid goes to a public, four-year college (if they are an out-of-state student) or $32,410 a year if she attends a private, four-year college (they don’t discriminate based on residency – your dollars are all green to them).

Of course, those figures assume your student goes to an “average” institution.

First, what kind of parent would you be to allow that?

Second, can you tell me where I can find these schools? I’ve yet to locate one with anything close to these tuition numbers.

Those dollar figures are only the whole story if your kid spends the school year living in a cardboard box, eating out of a Dumpster, and bogarting a friend’s Netflix account. Room and board adds much more, some of which is actually explainable:
  • It seems every college I visit or research has recently built or is building new dorms. Same old standard jail-cell dimensions and cinder block walls, sure, but better (read: more) bathrooms, free WiFi and HBO. (That last bit is a joke … except at Fairfield University. Go Stags!) 
  • Meal programs now have to take into account a host of allergies and preferences: nut-free, gluten-free, meat-free, etc., rather than just what we had in college -- taste-free. 
  • Fees for “essentials” such as laundry and computer printing are often included. As your kid will undoubtedly still bring most of his dirty underwear home and submit most work to professors online … well, you get to learn a valuable lesson in capitalism!
Nearly every school seems to make a point of telling you how many of its students receive financial aid – be it a grant or scholarship based on need or merit. Of the 30 schools – private, public, big and small -- on my daughter’s list, most have 75 percent or more in that category while only one is below 50 percent. (At 49 percent, duh!)

I think most schools present this information as a way to say there are many simple, obvious ways to help you afford a higher education though, to my non-business degreed noggin, I would have thought it says maybe we should lower prices so the parents of our underclassmen don’t need to sell a kidney.

A version of this was first ignored by the readers of The Stamford Advocate.

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