College Gossip

We went to a superbowl party yesterday hosted by friends that we met when our kids first started kindergarten. Now, those five-year olds are spotty faced boys-men texting in the corner. The parents nursed their beers and gossiped about colleges.

Based on the very unscientific sample of parents that we know from several North Jersey towns, I’m seeing tons and tons of applications to state colleges. Even among families with fully stocked 529s, the kids are going to state colleges. The price point is too high for the privates, and kids are saving their money for grad programs.

Jonah applied to 11 flagship state colleges. He heard from two and got into both, including – thank you, thank you, college Gods – Rutgers.

Rutgers isn’t beautiful. OK, it’s damn right ugly compared to colleges like University of Vermont with its green fields and sweeping views of Burlington and Lake Champlain. Jonah was horrified by urban decay around Rutgers during the college tour.

But Rutgers will cost us around $30,000, and UVM will cost $55,000. That’s $100,000 and a second mortgage on the house just for the nice views. So, obviously that’s not happening. We have a few weeks for Jonah to come to terms with this decision. We’ll see if he gets into UVM and if they give him enough money.

I know several students with 4.0 GPAs who were rejected from University of Virginia and Univeristy of North Carolina. Those two state schools seem almost impossible for out of state students. University of Alabama is a popular out of state college for kids with a weaker application. Miami of Ohio and Pittsburgh were popular this year for kids like Jonah.

I’m so relieved that he has a place to go this fall, and that we can afford it. He’ll have to take out a loan and we have some grandparent money to help out, but it’s very do-able. That means we can take a vacation and fix up the kitchen this year. Winning!

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85 thoughts on “College Gossip

  1. Good for Jonah! Good for the whole vacationing family!! I teach at UVM, and I sometimes wonder why students from out of state come to UVM when they don’t seem to have a particularly good reason to….I’ve had a few very undecided advisees the past few years, who seem stressed about money, and have no particular direction, and no particular part of UVM they turn to….and I end up wondering “why did you make this choice?” Don’t get me wrong, I think UVM has a lot to offer students, and I’m happy to talk about that. But I don’t get the completely aimless splurge.

    1. I was in Burlington for the first time this summer and it is so beautiful and lovely that I found myself thinking, “maybe the boys should go to college here….”. So maybe it’s the parents driving it? The fact that it is a place that parents would want to visit repeatedly might be what’s behind what otherwise seems like an inexplicable decision.

  2. Congratulation to Jonah.

    Also, if he could tell his friends who applied to Pitt not to drive quite so badly when they get here, I’d appreciate it. In exchange, I can provide them with information on which bars didn’t card during the very early 90s.

  3. Mildly curious why Jonah confined himself to just applying to flagships. Plenty of good regional comprehensive universities out there where he’d (you’d) pay less and get real face time with faculty with terminal degrees as a freshman.

    For example, my (admittedly rather pedestrian) regional university prices out at $22k out-of-state, all-in including housing, with no class bigger than 35 students.

  4. Jonah’s high school has 1,700 students. He wanted to go to a large state college, so it doesn’t feel like high school. He also liked all the offerings at the bigger schools. He wants to work in a greenhouse and have lots of equipment and space.

    I like a number of small, regional state colleges. The College of New Jersey, for example, is harder to get into than Rutgers. But nobody has ever heard of it outside of New Jersey, which might make it difficult if he wants to look for a job in LA or Austin.

    1. Yeah, you’ve probably heard from me a couple times that outside the NE, a lot of people are going to think that Rutgers is a fancy pants private school.

  5. We’re pushing state schools, but all of the degrees my wife and I have are also from state schools, so there is some bias there. I always take note when I see a colleague who went to, say, Denison, send a child to a state school. I work with plenty of good people who attended private schools, so I cannot say that I am against them, but the price differential is significant. Congrats on Rutgers, the institution from which I obtained my law degree. (I have many members who obtained their undergraduate degrees from New Brunswick, though, so I am familiar with the undergraduate programs as well.) Fun fact on Rutgers: there are two U.S. Senators with law degrees from Rutgers, and only one of them is under indictment!!

  6. Our guys did not have ‘flagship’ transcripts, but one of the lovely things about VA is that the second tier schools are pretty damn good. We told them that if they developed an enormous urge for materials science and Carnegie Mellon that we would somehow make it go, but that if they were going for something at which VA schools were in range, that was where they would go. They seem reasonably happy with their schools.
    We are, as your posts suggest that you are, in the ‘sour spot’ for college costs: not enough money to throw Harvard $5 million to take them (Jared Kushner, e.g.) but enough that FAFSA says we have to pay full freight. There are a LOT of kids like them at their schools.

  7. Congratulations!

    Husband recently let the cat out of the bag that if C decides on Hometown U in three years, that we will go to Disneyland. Fingers crossed, but at the moment, both big kids want to go to Hometown U. And a good thing, because I too would like a nice kitchen and vacations, which I hear are very nice.

    Laura–you might consider a semester or summer abroad program as a nice fat bribe. I was just doing a search, and Rutgers seems to have a lot of nice summer programs.

  8. Our college application process is totally different from yours. I like state schools, but the girl was not interested. We have heard nada except for deferral from Cornell.
    UVM is popular around here. A friend’s daughter is a freshperson there.
    Just yesterday morning, I spent a half hour holding my uncle’s hand virtually while he agonized over his son (freshperson at Binghampton) who is not happy there. My cousin wants less middle class NY and more urban culture, but not NYC. I told my uncle to get him to transfer to some place in New Orleans. That’ll be different. I think college can be hard for boys for some reason.
    Our vacation plans are on hold, too, but I’ve asked for an extra summer class (and a spring class, but I asked too late). My colleague’s son is graduating from Mass Maritime this May and I joked that our chair can just transfer all her overloads to me now.

    1. Wendy said:

      “Our vacation plans are on hold, too, but I’ve asked for an extra summer class (and a spring class, but I asked too late). My colleague’s son is graduating from Mass Maritime this May and I joked that our chair can just transfer all her overloads to me now.”

      Funny!

  9. Congrats, that’s great news! Do let us know if he hears from other places. (just curious! 😉 And you just made me freak out at my employer not accepting kids with 4.0 GPA! Thankfully my son will be in-state (they just upped in-state acceptance rates, I am told) & there are other options, like Tech (which might be better since he’ll do engineering) and even where my husband works. Well, in three years I’ll be where you are now (YIKES!!). Glad you’re sharing your experience with us!

  10. congrats Laura. Rutgers is a great institution. I know wonderful people who teach there and super smart people who graduated from there from all kinds of degrees. I am sure it is a great choice. Remind him he can GO TO NYC anytime he wants. If he’s at all interested in that, that will be way better than UVM, which is beautiful but wow, far away from anywhere but maybe Montreal.

  11. Congratulations! Also, it’s ok to let him know you have a Rutgers budget and not a UVM budget, and that’s the end of discussion.

  12. Congratulations to your son! And you too. I still am amazed at how much I think I got myself into college but I guess the memory of a teenager blocks out all the work my mother did.

  13. Am I the only one who finds it a source of vexation that very-upper middle class people are vacationing and home remodeling and at the same time complaining about how expensive college is and reaching for financial aid?

    Lest it seem like I’m picking on Laura here, let me mention one of my colleagues instead, who, between her husband and herself, makes an income that puts them squarely in the six figures, with the first digit probably a 2, and still complains that college is not affordable and that her kids are going to be relying on loans to go. And yet, they expensively remodel their home and take two ski vacations a year, which is in itself the amount of money that could put their kids through a state university for four years, regardless of any other economizing.

    It’s possible, on a decent but not extravagant single earner upper middle class income, to save for college. I know, because we are in the process of doing it. Our kids are in the seventh and fifth grade (both doing well in school but one squarely on the Autism spectrum) and we are already most of the way to having the money to put them through a state university and are now running up the score in case they want to (and are able to) go private. And a small amount of this is grandparent money, but mostly it is just us. And we are on track for retirement as well.

    To do this, we’ve had to sacrifice in other areas. Fewer and more modest vacations (although we spent some on these when we were living overseas). Cheap homes (in good school districts, admittedly, which costs, since one is on the spectrum) that go largely unimproved. Almost no restaurant outings. Grad school and Ikea furniture, even into our forties. In short, living a very spartan lifestyle to prioritize this.

    If our kids get into the MIT-Brown-Amherst class of school we will expect a bit of aid (I’ve run the calculators) but we are *not* the demographic that should otherwise be expecting financial aid, making two or three times the median household income. To think otherwise is part of the reason that Trump is in the White House. I may be upper middle class but at least I know where I am and where I am not.

    1. Jay said:

      “It’s possible, on a decent but not extravagant single earner upper middle class income, to save for college. I know, because we are in the process of doing it. Our kids are in the seventh and fifth grade (both doing well in school but one squarely on the Autism spectrum) and we are already most of the way to having the money to put them through a state university and are now running up the score in case they want to (and are able to) go private. And a small amount of this is grandparent money, but mostly it is just us. And we are on track for retirement as well.”

      Yay!

      I suspect we’re roughly in the same income band. Some thoughts:

      –one doesn’t get to that income level immediately–a lot of families will reach the no-financial-aid income zone (coincidentally!) just before it’s time for it’s time for kids to go to college
      –geography is important–if kids have the option of living at home, it’s potentially much cheaper (living expenses are a very big chunk of in-state costs)
      –it can take a long time to get into a house (my husband and I had been married 15 years before we bought our first house), and it’s reasonable not to start college savings while living in a rental
      –a lot of parents still have their own student loans to deal with–so it might not make a lot of sense to start saving for kids’ college while still owing for one’s own college
      –SAHMs with $30-40k in student loans are unfortunately a thing
      –families with more than 2 children (like dave s.) will find the math more difficult
      –More personally, my husband and I were married 15 years and had three children before we had the wherewithal to buy our house. The next summer, we bought our first minivan with cash (we’d been a one car family for the previous six years and a no car family before that). We started our college savings after that and have been doing it for going on 3 years now. I think there’s about $15k there right now–woohoo!
      –Yes, I like Starbucks, but there are no renovations and no substantial travel going on here (travel is either visiting grandmas and grandpas or a night or two in the big city once a year). However, there is an elephant in the living room–namely private school. Adding it up, our mortage/property taxes and private school tuition are going to be consuming about half of our take-home income starting in a few months.
      –Had I known how ferocious the private school bills were going to get (it’s going to be around $25k total in a couple of years), we might not have done private school, but it all started out very innocently ($5k a year 10 years ago) and that’s water under the bridge now. I’m supposed to start working soon, but at least initially, we’re probably going to need to cut down college savings to pay for 3 days of pre-k starting fall 2017. Yep.
      –This no doubt all sounds a little nuts, but there has been method to our madness. Our oldest is also on the autism spectrum, and while I suspect that our middle child could have done very well in any school, the small private school environment has been invaluable for our oldest. The teachers know her, her peer group is solid, she has friends, she’s actually rather social, her academic performance has been off the charts good, and she actually had a great 6th-8th grade experience–which blows my public school-educated mind.
      –As the icing on the cake, we just had the baby (age 4) evaluated and she is also on the autism spectrum. I haven’t gotten the full report yet, but presumably she will also benefit from the same sort of environment that her big sister has.
      –There is a big wild card here with regard to college choice. If all goes well, the big kids will go to Hometown U starting in 3.5 years and we’ll all go to Disneyland. (Not kidding, by the way–my husband has already told the big kids that.) If they don’t go to Hometown U (and especially if neither of them goes to Hometown U) it’s going to be the financial equivalent of a plague of frogs and locusts for the next 8+ years.

      “To do this, we’ve had to sacrifice in other areas. Fewer and more modest vacations (although we spent some on these when we were living overseas). Cheap homes (in good school districts, admittedly, which costs, since one is on the spectrum) that go largely unimproved. Almost no restaurant outings. Grad school and Ikea furniture, even into our forties. In short, living a very spartan lifestyle to prioritize this.”

      It sounds like we have basically the same lifestyle (Baby Girl literally has no furniture in her room except a crib mattress on the floor)–except we’re paying for private school (with a little for college) and you’re saving 100% for college.

      Potato, pot-ah-to.

      “If our kids get into the MIT-Brown-Amherst class of school we will expect a bit of aid (I’ve run the calculators) but we are *not* the demographic that should otherwise be expecting financial aid, making two or three times the median household income. To think otherwise is part of the reason that Trump is in the White House. I may be upper middle class but at least I know where I am and where I am not.”

      Purely financially, much like Laura, I’d like our big kids to go to Hometown U so that Mama can have nice things.

      Academically speaking, Hometown U is as good (or 80% as good) as anything they can get elsewhere, aside from maybe Caltech/MIT/etc. There’s nothing good that Brown can give them that they can’t get here–but I couldn’t really say the same about Hometown U versus Carnegie Mellon. So that’s where I would have a lot of qualms of conscience–I wouldn’t want to hold the kids back from a really unique learning environment, but at the same time I don’t want either the kids or ourselves borrowing for college.

      At the moment, both big kids want to go to Hometown U, but so much can change in 3 years…So it is very suspenseful.

      1. Potato, pot-ah-to.

        Um, no.

        You totally and completely misunderstand what I wrote.

        I don’t care what you spend your money on, really. Whether you blow your money on expensive colleges for your kids or private schools or kitchen remodels or ski vacations or flash cars or cocaine and hookers is none of my business. I’m not your mother or your accountant.

        What I do lose patience with (and more and more every day) is the idea, propagated not only by my immediate peers but also by the interwebs, that the six figure income upper middle class life is a struggle and that we are teetering precariously on the precipice of insecurity and financial ruin.

        We’re not. Or we shouldn’t be.

        What so many of us do is conflate not being able to have *everything* with deprivation. We should just cut it out.

        If your kids are on the autistism (as one of mine is) then you have added expenses for therapies and activities. So be it. You have to cut back in other areas, such as vacations and restaurants. That’s the way it goes. Just stop complaining that college is expensive and agitating for financial aid. That financial aid should be going to the working class kids.

        If you want to send your kids to private school rather than save for college, that’s fine. Just stop complaining that college is expensive and agitating for financial aid. That financial aid should be going to the working class kids.

        If you want to take expensive vacations rather than save for college, that’s fine. Just stop complaining that college is expensive and agitating for financial aid. That financial aid should be going to the working class kids.

        If you want to remodel your house rather than save for college, that’s fine. Just stop complaining that college is expensive and agitating for financial aid. That financial aid should be going to the working class kids.

        If your kid wants to go to an out of state flagship public school rather than the one you are paying taxes to support because the views of Lake Champlain are nice, that’s fine. Just stop complaining that college is expensive and agitating for financial aid. That financial aid should be going to the working class kids.

        If you want to blow your money on hookers and crack rather than save for college, well, I can’t help you there. But you certainly shouldn’t be complaining that college is expensive and agitating for financial aid. That financial aid should be going to the working class kids.

        If your parents refuse to fill out the FAFSA because they are evading their taxes or trying to hide post-divorce income, well, I am sympathetic. Your parents should be in jail, but it is poor consolation to suggest that what you need are better parents. Nonetheless, you aren’t deserving financial aid. That financial aid should be going to the working class kids.

        And there is no such thing, as dave s. puts it, as a “sour spot” where college is unaffordable to the six figure income set. It is only so if one is unwilling to put aside other things for their kids’ education. It’s a bummer to have to pay college tuition for our kids, but such is the price of being in the upper quintile of household income.

      2. Jay said:

        “Um, no.”

        Of course exerting oneself to give one’s children a good education for K-12 is closely related to exerting oneself to give one’s children a good education in grades 13-16.

        I say “potato pot-ah-to” because I don’t think it makes sense to treat those two things as completely of a different kind, with spending on grades 13-16 being admirable, and spending on K-12 being a frill akin to spending the money on hookers and blow (your view).

        If anything, I feel like I could make a pretty solid argument that good K-12 is a more reasonable investment, especially when we’re talking about special needs children. (It gives me the heebie jeebies when a guy I know is saving for college for a very disabled child, but insisting on homeschooling.)

        “What I do lose patience with (and more and more every day) is the idea, propagated not only by my immediate peers but also by the interwebs, that the six figure income upper middle class life is a struggle and that we are teetering precariously on the precipice of insecurity and financial ruin.”

        Let’s just say that (all being equal) $100k is different from $150k is different from $200k–the differences in overall lifestyle are quite noticeable.

        I’m not really prepared to talk about life about $200k, but based on many hours of listening to Dave Ramsey callers, $130ish/$140ish is right around the point where families start being able to both save substantially for retirement and college. In the real world, it is a very unusual right-on-the-nose $100k family that is saving heavily for both college and retirement, even in low cost areas. Anybody who is actually doing that at $100k for 2+ kids is doing something pretty amazing.

        Throw in a 3rd or 4th or (Lord help us!) 5th or 6th child, and yeah, there aren’t going to be a lot of frills, even at $100k.

        The typical US woman now has 1.88 kids. There are a lot of reasons for that and one of them is–it is genuinely expensive to give 2+ children a middle class home.

        “What so many of us do is conflate not being able to have *everything* with deprivation. We should just cut it out.”

        Nobody here is talking about having “everything.”

        “If your kids are on the autistism (as one of mine is) then you have added expenses for therapies and activities. So be it. You have to cut back in other areas, such as vacations and restaurants. That’s the way it goes. Just stop complaining that college is expensive and agitating for financial aid. That financial aid should be going to the working class kids.”

        I don’t think anybody has actually been doing that.

        It’s more been just describing the fact that, yes, there is actual discomfort and self-denial involved in choosing what is best for one’s children over one’s own comfort for literally decades. I had my first kid in 2002. My third will (if all goes well) graduate from college in 2034. That’s 32 freaking years.

        Now, that is the ride I have signed for–but it’s simply reality that there are going to be some pinches involved.

        “If you want to send your kids to private school rather than save for college, that’s fine. Just stop complaining that college is expensive and agitating for financial aid. That financial aid should be going to the working class kids.”

        Eh, who is doing that?

        “If your parents refuse to fill out the FAFSA because they are evading their taxes or trying to hide post-divorce income, well, I am sympathetic. Your parents should be in jail, but it is poor consolation to suggest that what you need are better parents. Nonetheless, you aren’t deserving financial aid. That financial aid should be going to the working class kids.”

        WHAT?

        You think that college-age kids with the misfortune of having parents who are selfish and stupid need to be punished in favor of “the working class kids.”

        I understand there is a moral hazard involved in this situation (we do not want to create incentives for affluent parents to cut their kids off at 18), but surely you understand that that 18-year-old from a middle class family is actually in a very bad situation?

        “And there is no such thing, as dave s. puts it, as a “sour spot” where college is unaffordable to the six figure income set. It is only so if one is unwilling to put aside other things for their kids’ education. It’s a bummer to have to pay college tuition for our kids, but such is the price of being in the upper quintile of household income.”

        I suggest you have a look at this:

        http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/05/05/308380342/most-americans-make-it-to-the-top-20-percent-at-least-for-a-while

        NPR says, “61 out of 100 U.S. households will break into the top 20% of incomes (roughly $111,000*) for at least 2 consecutive years” and “39 out of 100 U.S. households will break into the top 10% of incomes (roughly $153,000*) for at least 2 consecutive years.” Furthermore, “20 out of 100 U.S. households will fall into poverty (roughly $23,850 for a family of 4*) for at least 2 consecutive years.”

    2. Hookers and crack?

      Jay – I don’t think I was saying that the fed gov’t should subsidize college for me. I do think that the price of college is high. I refuse to get into a thing where i justify our expenditures. I will note that we also have IKEA and grad school furniture in our house, including a few pieces that I carted in from the side of the street in Manhattan. We also just finished paying off our own student loans last year. We started a special needs trust for our youngest, because we aren’t sure that he’ll ever be able to support himself. Whatever.

      It’s great that you’ve saved enough for your kids and that they will have the full range of higher ed options open to them. Very, very few Americans can do that. We don’t have enough money put aside and can’t afford to pay nearly half of our yearly income on higher ed. We’re very pleased that our son got into our state college. He will probably attend that school.

  14. Congratulations! Your posts on this topic have been very useful to me – I have a junior and a freshman in HS, so this year is going to be rough!

  15. Jay said:

    “Am I the only one who finds it a source of vexation that very-upper middle class people are vacationing and home remodeling and at the same time complaining about how expensive college is and reaching for financial aid?”

    “Very-upper middle class” families don’t get need-based financial aid.

    Hence, all the whining.

    “Lest it seem like I’m picking on Laura here, let me mention one of my colleagues instead, who, between her husband and herself, makes an income that puts them squarely in the six figures, with the first digit probably a 2, and still complains that college is not affordable and that her kids are going to be relying on loans to go. And yet, they expensively remodel their home and take two ski vacations a year, which is in itself the amount of money that could put their kids through a state university for four years, regardless of any other economizing.”

    I don’t think that’s really a class phenomenon–more a specific “your colleague is selfish and bad with money” thing.

    I haven’t actually seen that sort of behavior at that income level–what I have heard a lot more about is families in the $80k+ range who refuse to either help with college or do a FAFSA–my current working theory on that is that there is tax fraud going on.

    Another thing I have heard about (and this is more niche) is UMC parents of large families deciding that they will not pay for college because they can’t afford to pay for everybody, so they just won’t even try. (A line of reasoning that I’ve become familiar with is–we can’t afford college for a large family and we have to have a large family so our kids don’t need college. Yeah, I don’t get it either.)

    “Plumbers make good money!” is the theme song of a lot of conservative UMC parents who a) are not planning on helping with college and b) have no freaking clue as to how one goes about becoming a plumber or c) if any of their children would make good plumbers or be happy as plumbers.

    There are obviously conservative UMC parents and conservative UMC parents of large families that are more responsible (I know lots of them in real life), but the type I mentioned sticks out more.

    This is getting long, so I’ll break this up and continue in a bit.

    1. The FAFSA is really important. My mom decided she was able to contribute about 5K a year to my college expenses, but she is always on her A game with paperwork and got the FAFSA in early. I got a full tuition need-based scholarship to school, which at that time was about $25,000.

      Not contributing to college is one thing, but not doing FAFSA is something else.

      1. Yay, mom!

        It’s really inexcusable to not do the FAFSA (if there’s any possibility of eligibility at all)–because the student cannot do it without parental cooperation (barring some sort of unusual situation).

  16. As a fellow member of Dave S’s sour spot, I doubt that he ever meant to say that college was unaffordable. What I interpreted as that his family, like mine, like perhaps those of many on this blog, is well enough off to have no chance at financial aid, but not wealthy enough for the sticker price (or even the discounted price) to be a mere drop in the household financial bucket. So I think “sour spot” is a good phrase, even if applies to less than 10% of the population.

    Also, in my neck of the UMC, it is pretty much unthinkable for entire families to say that they are rejecting college entirely, for all their kids. To me, college attendance is almost a sine qua non of being upper middle class. I’m not sure what type of definition I could come up with of UMC that did not include regular college attendance for most young people. I’d be happy to entertain other people’s definitions of UMC.

  17. Mostly Lurking said,

    “What I interpreted as that his family, like mine, like perhaps those of many on this blog, is well enough off to have no chance at financial aid, but not wealthy enough for the sticker price (or even the discounted price) to be a mere drop in the household financial bucket. So I think “sour spot” is a good phrase, even if applies to less than 10% of the population.”

    Yep.

    “Also, in my neck of the UMC, it is pretty much unthinkable for entire families to say that they are rejecting college entirely, for all their kids. To me, college attendance is almost a sine qua non of being upper middle class. I’m not sure what type of definition I could come up with of UMC that did not include regular college attendance for most young people. I’d be happy to entertain other people’s definitions of UMC.”

    You’re right that UMC is a little confusing, because on the one hand it’s an income level, but on the other hand, it’s an ideology. UMC ideology drives the life choices of a lot of people who do not qualify as UMC by income (which contributes to some nasty trainwrecks), but at the same time, there are people who have UMC type income who do not have UMC values.

    My particular in-real-life peer group is very pro-college and pro-helping with college, because we’re both in a college community and have kids in private school. However, that is a bubble.

    1. I’ve been immersed in communities all across the class spectrum, and it’s interesting how different these sorts of things are. In the poor community I in part grew up in, there wasn’t a concept of UMC at all, there was poor, getting by, and rich. Rich meant one person in your family had a job. Living in a house your parents owned and not having to share a bedroom with too many people meant you were really wealthy.* In college, I was in the bottom 25th percentile, and being UMC meant your family’s income was only high 6 figures, maybe low 7, and your parents leased their Jaguars instead of bought. They had to choose between home in the Hamptons or yearly vacations to Aspen in the winter and Europe in the summer. The gardner only came once a week, and the housekeeper maybe 2-3x a week and didn’t do much cooking now that the kids were grown.

      *Living in a house your grandma owned with your siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins was getting by. Living in public housing was poor. Wearing different clothes each day of the week was rich, wearing the same outfit every day as long as it didn’t smell was getting by, smelling like urine was poor. Having parents pack your lunch was rich, getting reduced price lunch was getting by, and getting free lunch was poor. Poor didn’t have too much of a stigma, unless the urine smell was really strong.

  18. MostlyL and AmyP, what they said. We have friends with UMC values who have third- and even second-quintile incomes. The FAFSA is their friend! And they are sending their kids to high-sticker-price colleges, with generous need based aid which won’t come to us (we are at the lower or middle range in the top decile, and the retirement fairy will be waving her magic wand at us not too long from now). So, like I said, if one of our kids had a plausible need-to-need-to case for Oberlin or Carnegie Mellon, we could do it and would. If all of them came up with that case, there’d be a lot of lentils and rice in retirement. But we are not volunteering for it, as we think about probably living another twenty-five years.

    1. We have some Asian immigrant friends who are probably second quintile/at best very low third quintile but are totally on the UMC value bus.

      It’s very, very stressful for the mom, who is concerned about college in a couple of years. I’m not quite sure how they do what they are currently doing for their two kids in middle school and high school, but I suspect the overseas grandparents are probably funding some kid stuff.

      They’ll know one way or another in a couple of years.

      That’s true for a lot of us, though–we don’t really know what the damage is going to be until spring senior year.

  19. When I went to Rutgers (graduated 1996) it cost $12K (tuition+room+board) for out-of-state students. I was an international student so that’s what I paid. As a foreign national I was not eligible for most forms of financial aid or for most scholarships/grants. But this was an amount that an Eastern European family like mine was able to pay. Not easily but able. The cost of tuition+room+board at Rutgers has since increased by over 300% for out-of-state students. The cost is prohibitive, the increase way, WAY outpaces inflation. Which is a pity because I sincerely loved Rutgers U.

  20. Not to monopolize the thread, but it is relevant that “save for college” is one of the last steps in conventional personal finance advice. Take, for example, Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps:

    Baby Step 1 – $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund
    Baby Step 2 – Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
    Baby Step 3 – 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
    Baby Step 4 – Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
    Baby Step 5 – College funding for children
    Baby Step 6 – Pay off home early
    Baby Step 7 – Build wealth and give!

    Starting college savings is supposed to happen AFTER paying off all non-mortgage debt, saving 3-6 months emergency savings and saving 15% of income in retirement. In addition, there should be appropriate insurance and appropriate giving all along (Baby Step 7 is actually about giving over the standard goal of 10%), not to mention savings for cash purchases of vehicles.

    There are a lot of buckets that need to be filled, and a family with two kids and a $100k gross income is not going to be living the high life with 15% retirement savings, 10% college savings, and 10% giving.

    1. Those “Baby Steps” seem pretty big.

      Also, he left off “Start second family with stripper who really understands you.” That may be the Budweiser talking. I’m trying to offset the boycott on my own. It’s better than I remember it.

      1. “Start second family with stripper who really understands you” sends you back down to Baby Step 1.

        And yes, the Baby Steps are pretty big, and it is often unfortunately necessary to revisit Baby Step 3 and make sure that the emergency fund is well topped off. That’s exactly why it takes so long to get to the college funding step–or why a lot of parents may not get there at all until their kids are actually college age. We need to top off our emergency fund yet again, while also continuing with retirement savings and college savings (DR expects families to be doing steps 4 and 5 at the same time).

        There’s a lot of power in having such an easy to remember sequence. I’ve seen a lot of other personal finance advice, and it’s easy to just get confused and overwhelmed by all the do-this and do-thats and either flail around chaotically doing half a dozen things at once, or stop doing anything.

        So, no it doesn’t surprise me that families with $100k income fail to arrive at college time with $100k (or more!) wrapped up with ribbons for each of their children–for heaven’s sake, that’s a whole year of gross income per kid.

      2. Yah, “Start second family with stripper who really understands you.” requires a fairly Trumpian income stream, if it’s not going to put you back into the starting blocks.
        It’s also worth noting that, as UMCs who are sending our kids to instate public schools, we are getting a pretty big subsidy from the taxpayers of Virginia who are paying a good amount to keep those costs down.
        There’s a lot of cost structure in both public and private universities which is tolerated by the customers because we don’t see it all at once – the proverbial climbing walls, the vast advising-diversity-sports structure. My kid is taking four classes, let’s say each has a 100k/year teacher and a couple of 30k TAs and there’s a room, and there are 50 kids in a class. And the room costs 50k to have it there and heated. Direct cost of providing each class is of the magnitude of 200k, 800k to provide four classes, divide by fifty 16k is a direct cost of tuition. Libraries are not fripperies! My kid really likes the gym on campus. But I’m suggesting there would be a lot more pressure to keep it lean if we were paying out of pocket at the time, and if Suze Orman had not been prating about ‘college debt is GOOD debt’.

    2. Ah, yes, Dave Ramsey. His advice, in total, is directed at people who have limited self-control and no understanding of money and should be taken with a grain of salt. His “Debt Snowball,” (pay your smallest debts first rather than the ones costing you the most money) for instance, is terrible advice and, if used, will almost certainly involve much more time and money to pay your debts than would be necessary for someone with a modicum of willpower and a basic understanding of compound interest.

      Still, his steps 1-7 are good advice if you ignore the snowball part of it. But it doesn’t preclude college funding. In fact, he would suggest prioritizing it over everything above retiring your debts and saving for retirement. And some of his steps overlap. In particular, steps 1, 3, and 6 are excellent vehicles for college savings, as paying off your home early is one excellent way to save for college and shifting a ton of money into savings for an emergency is also shifting a ton of money into accounts that, should no emergency arise, can be tapped for college down the road.

      Should one actually follow his priorities? I’m not going to tell people to do so or not. As I said above, I’m not anybody’s mother or accountant. But I will just point out (again) that if you prioritize other things (vacations, restaurants, private schools, “10% giving”, nice kitchens, etc) then you shouldn’t be surprised (or complain) when that money isn’t around for college. Which is as it should be for people in our demographic.

      1. Jay said:

        “Ah, yes, Dave Ramsey. His advice, in total, is directed at people who have limited self-control and no understanding of money and should be taken with a grain of salt.”

        95-99% of people have limited self-control–so financial advice for people with limited self-control is pretty essential for reaching and helping a large audience.

        “His “Debt Snowball,” (pay your smallest debts first rather than the ones costing you the most money) for instance, is terrible advice and, if used, will almost certainly involve much more time and money to pay your debts than would be necessary for someone with a modicum of willpower and a basic understanding of compound interest.”

        People with those excellent qualities are underrepresented among those with messy finances and debt problems.

        Also, the following is true of the debt snowball process:
        a) it’s very easy to remember
        b) it’s meant to be done very quickly and aggressively so the difference in interest is very small (when we did it, all of our non-mortgage debt disappeared within 2-3 years–how much extra interest would that add up to?)
        c) it reduces the stress level rapidly as the debtor is no longer plagued by many small annoying accounts (this is very important–being less stressed means one is able to make better decisions)
        d) a lot of small balance accounts have high interest anyway (for example store credit cards) and a lot of large balances (for example, student loans) have smaller interest rates–also, there are deferments available for student loans in the case of major catastrophe
        e) paying off the small accounts means that it is less likely that there will be an accidental late charge
        f) a lot of people find the debt snowball very motivating
        g) it works for a lot of people.

        Basically, for most people, working a plan is better than not working a plan.

        “But it doesn’t preclude college funding. In fact, he would suggest prioritizing it over everything above retiring your debts and saving for retirement. And some of his steps overlap. In particular, steps 1, 3, and 6 are excellent vehicles for college savings, as paying off your home early is one excellent way to save for college and shifting a ton of money into savings for an emergency is also shifting a ton of money into accounts that, should no emergency arise, can be tapped for college down the road.”

        Those are good points–money is money.

        “Should one actually follow his priorities? I’m not going to tell people to do so or not. As I said above, I’m not anybody’s mother or accountant. But I will just point out (again) that if you prioritize other things (vacations, restaurants, private schools, “10% giving”, nice kitchens, etc) then you shouldn’t be surprised (or complain) when that money isn’t around for college. Which is as it should be for people in our demographic.”

        You can’t call 10% giving selfish indulgence, though, can you?

        This is getting long, but if Laura does not exile me for over-posting, I’m going to do some special pleading for vacations and kid indulgence in a bit.

      2. One thing that has come up in previous discussions is that there is actually an ongoing conflict between now and later–if we do activities for kids, does it mean that we won’t be able to afford the college that kid gets into through activities? Or if we don’t do activities and save for college instead, will kids get into trouble and not get through college? (See previous threads.) Also, too much penny-pinching and cheese-paring is likely to create the mother of all backlashes once kids get out on their own and start getting letters from VISA and Mastercard in their mailboxes. (I was brought up very frugally but without any sort of budgeting sense, and boy howdy did I love VISA as a young adult.) Plus, there are intangibles. For example, my sister’s kids have grandparents in Europe–they’ve spent ENORMOUS amounts of money flying those kids back and forth over the years to maintain those relationships. I’m likewise planning a big trip, which may be the last chance my kids get to see their great-grandparents.

        There’s also the issue that as kids get bigger, life feels more and more like standing on a parade float tossing out a steady stream of $20 bills. Some recent examples:

        $15 for Latin Day
        $17 for the Junior Classical League convention X 2
        $30 for play costume
        $2 for more play costume (lady at school emailed to say we also need a vest–I told her we’re over budget but will take a vest if offered)
        $11 for ukulele strings
        $30 competition entry
        Etc.

      3. AmyP your ‘ongoing conflict between now and later’ doesn’t even get to the question ‘how do I get through the valley between -retire- and -dead- without running out of money’? not to mention, what happens when Roscoe decides that his sociology degree AGAINST WHICH YOU WISELY ADVISED HIM GODDAMNIT won’t do it, and there is a nice degree in nursing, or a training program in HVAC at the community college which would actually get him a job, at about age 28.
        All of which militates against taking on debt to pay for a nice climbing wall at Directional State, even though the nice folks at Directional State think they need it to compete for students.

      4. A basic understanding of compound interest: Well, apparently only a third of Americans understand compound interest.

        I think paying off the smallest debts first makes sense, because apparently the FICO score considers the number of accounts, as well as the overall total. (http://www.myfico.com/crediteducation/amounts-owed.aspx) So paying down the smallest debts could well be more effective than paying down the largest debt, taking into account the interest rates on the different accounts. The FICO score is important, because it can influence the interest rates charged for new loans.

  21. The February Kiplinger’s has their “Best College Values 2017” cover story. They say they were using a formula of 55% quality and 45% financial (their educational measures are a little skimpy, but the financial measures seem very thorough). Here’s a link to the online article, but it’s really not as convenient as the print version because of all of the massive tables:

    http://www.kiplinger.com/article/college/T014-C000-S002-kiplinger-s-best-college-values-2017.html

    Timothy Burke was right–Swarthmore is all that. They rate #1 on the combined public/private list, with students graduating with an average of $18k in debt at graduation.

    The combined list has 50 schools. They top out at $27k for student debt at graduation and with many of them having much lower debt levels. Wellesley, for example, has a surprising $12k average. Princeton’s number is under $7k.

    There are several different lists (combined, private, public and liberal arts), but I’ll just type out the names of the top 50: Swarthmore, Davidson, Princeton, Duke, Washington and Lee, Harvard, Thomas Aquinas College (Santa Paula, CA), Vanderbilt, UNC Chapel Hill, Wellesley, Middlebury, Pomona, Yale, Amherst, Williams, Wesleyan, Rice, Bowdoin, Caltech, Stanford, Brown, MIT, Colby, Vassar, Grinnell, Dartmouth, College of the Holy Cross (Worcester Mass), Columbia ($25k is excellent for NYC), Hamilton, Emory, University of Richmond, Colgate, Haverford, Colorado College, Carleton College, Hillsdale, Cornell, Wheaton, Notre Dame, University of Pennsylvania, Georgeotown, University of Chicago, John Hopkins, Scripps, Barnard, UVA, Boston College, Macalester College, Bates College and Kenyon College.

    It is very interesting to see all of this in the same place. It does seem like there’s actually a pretty strong relationship overlap between academic quality and affordability.

    Also, it looks like there is a lot of hope of beating the national debt average for graduates, which is currently around $37k for students with debt. On the other hand, some 30% of students graduate with no debt at all, so that is also a real option.

    http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/slideshows/10-student-loan-facts-college-grads-need-to-know

    1. I teach at one of those schools. I suspect our debt level may be low because close to 20% of our students have parents with household incomes over $625,000. The percentage of our students on Pell grants is miniscule. We educate mostly the children of the rich and lots of professors’ kids who come here through the tuition reduction program we have with a bunch of other liberal arts colleges. It’s a good education; if I had kids I’d send them here, but then I’m a firm believer in SLACs.

    2. My mother didn’t encourage us to work in HS beyond babysitting-type odd jobs, because she said the amount of money we’d get in aid from a top university or SLAC far outpaced anything we could earn as teenagers, and she was completely right. Our time was better spent doing activities that would get us into top schools than it was trying to earn money for college.

  22. Not to monopolize the thread, but now I’m starting to wonder–but what was the parents’ borrowing?

    Presumably the student and parent borrowing would track pretty closely, but it is true that the student number does not represent the total borrowing going on.

  23. I think an important fact has been overlooked. A middle or upper-middle class parent has no obligation to pay as much as possible for a child’s education. The “merit scholarships” offered are often merely rebates on the sticker price. It isn’t as if the colleges are spending money on MC or UMC children which would otherwise be spend on the children of the working class. It’s similar to the differential pricing airlines use to fill seats, although unlike airlines, colleges do care about students’ SAT scores.

    Very few people remain MC or UMC if they can’t set up a household budget, and abide by it. Remodeling the kitchen could also be termed, “maintaining the family’s largest capital asset.” My parents didn’t renovate the house we grew up in, and when they sold the house, they definitely paid the price for not renovating the house over the years.

    I agree it is annoying at times to hear very wealthy people complain about college tuition, but no one is required to pay it. It’s a choice. And sometimes, I suspect the very wealthy are not really so wealthy, but rather living above their means.

    I am befuddled by the parents who boast about their children being “recruited to play ____ sport” at not-so-selective colleges, but then that’s not my world, and I try very hard not to judge.

    1. Cranberry said:

      “Very few people remain MC or UMC if they can’t set up a household budget, and abide by it. Remodeling the kitchen could also be termed, “maintaining the family’s largest capital asset.””

      You definitely have a point there. Even just cosmetic stuff can cause a house to sit on the market. That was definitely true of the house we bought–a lot of people saw it, but nobody made an offer (ACRES of pink carpet and yards of pink Formica and purple-veined faux marble), because the cosmetic work was going to be so massive and you can get shiny, pretty and new out in the suburbs for the same money.

      With regard to non-cosmetic stuff–we have a kitchen with no ventilation hood. That’s kind of a big deal. Also, up until we started replacing them, the toilets were of a peculiar flood-prone design.

      Plus, at some point, it really is over. My grandparents, for example, wound up having to renovate their kitchen in the house they built because the 50-year-old built in appliances just started dying, and there is no longer an oven on sale that fits into the slot where their old one used to go–so a lot of stuff needed to be reconfigured.

      “I agree it is annoying at times to hear very wealthy people complain about college tuition, but no one is required to pay it. It’s a choice. And sometimes, I suspect the very wealthy are not really so wealthy, but rather living above their means.”

      Yep.

  24. Four years at Swarthmore costs $249,800. If a parent started saving at birth for 18 years, they would have to save $13,877 per year or $1,156 per month. If there is only one kid and the family starts off with a healthy income AND has no debts AND has no job loss over that time or any other major emergency AND nobody gets sick AND isn’t caring for a diabled family member, then this kind of savings for a big expenditure is doable. Not every family is able to do this. We don’t have $250,000 because we’ve spent that money on cars, vacations, and kitchens. Hell, my husband drives a 15-year old Toyota which is missing a door handle.

    I’m sure that that a quarter of million dollars provides a fantastic college education. But kids should be able to get a perfectly adequate college education, without all the bells and whistles of a school like Swarthmore. State colleges have to exist for families that don’t have perfect lives.

    We do have enough money to afford our in-state college, but probably not enough for an out of state college. Well, we could do it, but it would mean no kitchen renovation or vacation or savings for his younger brother. We would do it, if we felt like it would mean a huge difference in his education. We don’t think that there’s any difference, beyond the nice view, between our in-state college and the out-of-state options. This is not a tragedy. I never said it was. My kid is disappointed that he doesn’t have the same options as his friends, but it’s not a big deal. He’ll get over it.

    1. I feel like you’re being a bit obtuse. Swarthmore doesn’t charge sticker price to people who can’t afford it, and they’re generous in how they calculate “afford.” Top colleges, including Swarthmore, charge NO tuition to people earning less than 6 figures (so, most families). They offer generous financial aid to families with low 6 figure income. Going to Swarthmore costs no more than going to a state school, often less, unless you make enough to where it’s really not a financial hardship to pay sticker price.

      The hard thing about the Swarthmores or the Harvards is getting in, it’s not how to pay for it once you’ve gotten in.

    2. He’ll definitely survive! We (royal we, adults included) tend to look at those who have more and feel a bit like we’re missing out.

      On the old car front, mine is a 2001 RAV4 with super low mileage because we used public transit a lot when we lived in Toronto. Now that we’re out west with not as great transit, we do drive more. I have the oldest and crappiest car of the parents of my daughter’s friends. Character building for her…along with the hula girl on the dash and the fuzzy dice.

      And on the priorities front, keeping that crazy RAV4 running allows us to do our annual family trips to NYC (saw Hamilton last Friday night!! And also saw Dear Evan Hansen). And also afford to live in Vancouver (some of the highest housing prices in North America).

      1. 1. YayHamlet!
        2. How was Dear Evan Hansen? That’s on my list.
        3. Does anyone know what I’m referring to when I say “I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus riding on the dashboard of my car. I can go a hundred miles an hour long as I got the almighty power glued up there with my pair of fuzzy dice”?
        4. Can Laura create a thread so we can talk about f-ing Russia? I said on Facebook this morning that apparently I can take the ferry from New London to Orient Point and wave at the nice Russian spy boat on the way.

  25. I have friends whose daughter goes to Swarthmore and I know they’re not paying that much. I looked up the data (http://www.collegedata.com/cs/data/college/college_pg03_tmpl.jhtml?schoolId=127) and it says that 2/3 of freshmen receive financial aid, with the average aid amount being $46k/year. I can’t vouch for this site, but it seems pretty reasonable from what I know about the SLAC where my sister teaches – they give a lot of aid.

    So for the average of these 2/3, the cost of Swarthmore is about par with what you’d pay to go to a state college. Average indebtedness of 2015 grads is $18K. My friend’s daughter has a good internship/work study setup, as well; she has worked during the academic year and also for parts of summers.

    I’m also a fan of state schools, but if your kid can get into Swarthmore or any other place with a big endowment – and that’s a big if for the vast majority of high school students! – it’s unlikely to cost them a quarter of a million.

    1. The question for this audience, however, is how much Swarthmore costs for those in the “sour spot” of household income from $100 to $300K (say 85th to 97th income percentiles). I know that HYP, and maybe some other Ivies, had announced that families with incomes up to $200K would not be required to pay more than 10% of their incomes, which helps, but that doesn’t help those at slightly lesser ranking schools, or with incomes of say $400K, the bottom edge of the 99th percentile.

      1. I am reminded of how much older I am than most of this crowd. We had our kids late, and have saved enough to get them through state schools. Have you guys been seeing the sad stories in the Times, etc., about geezers with student debt from cosigning for their kids? We don’t want to be those guys! Our competing priorities here (besides a wedding or two) are retirement. We have no time to recover our finances after they are out of college. So yah, the income looks good, but it’s going to stop.
        And then there’s geography – in Omaha, on 150, you are the guy who, in MH’s ‘stripper’ phrase, some floozy sets out to convince you she can make you happy forever. In suburban Maryland, you are Joe down the street.

      2. I ran the Net Price Calculator, and a family of 2, with 150K in income (owning a house, 100K in assets, . . . .) would be 33K/year. So if we define the sour spot as the spot at which a family can afford a state school but not a higher profile school, there is a select group of schools for which the “sour spot” is higher than 150K (I’ve run these calculators before, and most have thresholds of 260K or so, after which no aid is available — i.e. a sour spot of 260K). There are lots of schools (NYU, for example), where the sour spot is lower.

        So, can a family making 250K “afford” Swarthmore? I think a lot depends on how long they’ve been making that income and how secure it is.

      3. dave s. said,

        “I am reminded of how much older I am than most of this crowd.”

        Yeah, age does make a difference.

        I’m a smidge younger than a number of the moms here, and it does make a difference in terms of having more optimism about there being life after college, especially since 3 out of 4 grandparents are still working, 20+ years after their kids started leaving the nest.

        But, on the other hand, having started having kids earlier (late 20s) as soon as we cracked $40k in household income and then done some recent time again in the Baby Zone, this college thing feels like it’s coming really fast.

        I guess it’s six of the one, half a dozen of the other.

      4. I live in the rural midwest, where a single person can live on $30K and $200K/year is super-rich. Except for one doctor/full professor couple, I bet I don’t know anyone who makes that much. Also the smart kids here fill some sort of “flyover country” quote for some of the fancy schools, so maybe they get more aid. So there are probably fewer people in the sour spot.

      5. It’s not just paying for college for which the ‘sour spot’ concept is useful: here is an article about the sour spot for families with Obamacare: http://www.usnews.com/news/health-care-news/articles/2017-02-15/priced-out-of-obamacare-some-americans-forgo-coverage
        When to avoid having it scored for too much predicted cost, the Obama administration set it up so that third-quintile income people paid a whole lot of the costs for first- and second-, they built in the kind of problems we see today.

  26. P.S. Congrats to Jonah!

    P.P.S. I have a 16-year-old Toyota and am also having problems with the door handle. It keeps getting stuck when it’s cold out, though I and the mechanic have tried a few things to fix it. It may be what finally drives me to get a new car.

    1. Thanks.

      Our door handle fell off completely. Actually, we finally got it fixed last week, along with the muffler that was dragging on the ground. Before that, Steve had to use his fingernails to open the door. The exhaust system and the door handle cost about 2 grand. We seriously held off on making the repair until we got the acceptance letter. Next up our some serious home repairs. A shutter rotted off the house last week. Our neighbors must hate us.

      1. A couple years after our house purchase, we discovered that roofing job (which had been done the year before we bought it) had omitted the nailing step on a long run of shingles and they’re secured only with goo. Ever since, we’ve been losing a shingle here and there when it’s hot weather and the black tarry goo fails.

        My husband has re-gooed easily a dozen of the shingles since then–probably more. (His technique involves a step ladder, a helper, more goo, one of those NASA space arm thingies, and multiple pairs of latex gloves.) Before this is over, we’re going to wind up doing ALL of them. (It’s not expensive, though.)

        I also hear that our back fence neighbors are restive about our massive English ivy, which has been creeping over the back fence into their yard. Come to think of it, that might be what’s holding up the fence…

    2. We have a 6-year-old KIA minivan and three different doors are wonky–each in its own special way. My husband does not want to fix them, because he thinks they’re going to break again.

      I do not foresee getting a KIA again.

  27. I’m going to try one more time.

    People (especially AmyP, who for some reason seems to be endlessly fishing for affirmation) seem to think they are on the hook for justifying whether or not they prioritize saving for and financing higher education. But they aren’t, at least to me. I may have my own priorities but they are just those, mine. I’m not anyone’s mother or accountant and so I don’t care where college fits into their own finances. Really. I. Don’t. Care.

    What I do care about is upper middle class whinging and special pleading. Let me try again to explain. In case you crawled out from under a rock, we just had quite an acrimonious election, the effects of which are still unpleasantly unfolding. And, it is true that I hate Trump and everything he stands for and despise his supporters even more. (To some extent you can’t blame Trump for being the deranged, anti-intellectual proto-human that he is. His supporters have more agency.) So, it would be entirely reasonable, and very tempting to say to a large swathe of his supporters “Well, if this is what you want you are on your own. You and Trump can deal with your opioid problems and your rural deindustrialization on your own and I will just get along with my comfy life.”

    Tempting, but wrong. Because his supporters, deplorable as they are, have a point. Namely, the system is broken for a large part of the country. And I am not suffering from that. For me, as for almost every single person (as close to 100% as makes no difference) with a six figure household income, the system is working. This is not to say that life is effortless or easy or that I (and every other UMC household) doesn’t have to set priorities and make (sometimes hard) choices or work hard, but the system works. The. System. Works.

    Even for problems which are difficult and draining (for instance, like Laura and several others, I have a kid on the autism spectrum) , the system works for me most of the time and when it doesn’t I have the time and money and education and social class to make it work. If I made $40K a year and lived in an economically depressed part of the country, I would be seeing what it is like for the system not to work and whenever I get frustrated with things, it behooves me to remind myself of this fact.

    And so it is with higher education. There are certainly problems with our higher education system and this was an issue in the election. But so many proposed solutions seem geared towards making the system work better for people like me. And this is the wrong way to go. Because if you are UMC then the higher education system works. *If* you make it a priority, then you have access. *If* you don’t then it is harder, but the system is working and, as we propose policy solutions we should be aiming our fixes towards the people for whom it is *truly* not working.

    So, it *really* bothers me when we have UMC people complaining about their difficulties, which are really hangnail-eque as opposed to multiple amputations in the general scheme of things, and politicians pandering to this agitation. Especially when a lot of the proposed fixes for people like me will just screw people further down the ladder. It really is a source of vexation. A little more sympathy and class consciousness might help in avoiding the miserable situation that we’ve found ourselves in.

    TL;DR Do what you want, but if you are in the top quintile don’t complain about how broken the system is for you and don’t have a desire to make it better for yourself at the expense of those for whom it is truly messed up.

    1. Jay,

      Who were you replying to?

      I have a lot of difficulty identifying who here you are arguing with because you’re not addressing the individual point of view of anybody on the thread, but just sort of smooshing multiple points of view together and assuming views that they don’t actually hold.

      Laura, for example, was not talking about policy AT ALL.

  28. Jay — I think it’s important to consider what this blog is — it is both personal and political, with a dose of policy wonkishness, especially about education policy, Laura’s professional field of expertise.

    At the personal level, we talk about, and yes, even whine about things we’d like to have and to be able to offer our children. Our own family is in a financial position to be able to offer an extreme degree of resources and support, even for this commenting base. I find discussions of the choices made by people who are budgeting in the 100-200K range useful because a barbell world doesn’t work for making community decisions in my opinion. Even if, as a matter of public policy, you address that middle by explaining to them why they don’t need the supports that those who have fewer resources need, we do need to spend time discussing those explanations.

    On a policy level, Laura, in particular, has written about some of the issues on which the “UMC” and the working class populations might have different needs at a policy level (year-round-schooling, longer school days, common core curricula, vouchers) in ways that exposed my eyes to the needs of more working class populations).

    Don’t take our whining to mean that we expect policy solutions for our wants, especially when they might hurt other people with fewer resources than us. I am occasionally a little bit annoyed that I don’t have a second home, but I’m not looking for a government subsidy to help me make that happen.

    1. Yes, thank you, bj. What I like about this comments section is that it mixes policy and personal discussions. It’s like the conversation you would have at a party. It’s not like a policy seminar, so not everything is about what the government should do, or like a counseling seminar, where everything is about how you can solve your problems.

      I should add, what I also like is that the crowd here is slightly more diverse than the people you usually meet at a party, where connections based on work or neighborhood or church tend to produce a fair level of homogeneity.

  29. I would add that I know people who were only temporarily upper middle class. The primary reasons were job loss, divorce, and illness, but by no means is the system guaranteed to work for “someone who makes six figures.” Some of the job losses were due to companies going under–Arthur Andersen, anyone? I suspect others may have been due to age discrimination. I have heard of many people who were once executives, but now work at supermarkets.

    It is by no means “whining” to be careful about what may be the second largest purchase a family may ever make. As an aside, I would recommend that everyone arrange for life insurance. It can make a huge difference for the family, in the event one spouse were to pass away.

  30. “Some of the job losses were due to companies going under–Arthur Andersen, anyone?”

    Yes, and this kind of job loss can strike arbitrarily; it is one of the aspects of employment that fuels resentment against those who are perceived to have jobs that are more secure, especially when people don’t see discounting in pay as a return for the higher job security.

    I remember discussing the savings rate/salaries of some of the supreme court justices who had been federal judges (I can’t remember which ones). Federal judges are guaranteed salaries for the rest of their lives. Assuming that they can live on what they are earning, they don’t need to save for retirement (which in turn increases the value of the money they have now). And, university professors, with tenure, and potential tuition benefits also have secure salaries.

    (My personal whine is that if we were able to pay taxes at the carried interest rate, we’d probably be able to have that second home. Whining about that tax structure doesn’t mean that I think that I should get that deduction)

    1. “And, university professors, with tenure, and potential tuition benefits also have secure salaries.”

      From the point of firing, yes, but it’s possible to become disabled in such a way that it wouldn’t be possible to continue the work.

      So, it’s still important not to count chickens.

      1. Time to point out that most university teachers have none of the above: http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Great-Shame-of-Our/239148/

        And, segue into: colleges offer a package. You don’t get to choose – I’d like my kid’s professor to be tenure track, and you can skip the climbing wall and the cafeteria with four food stations each with its own chef, and beef up the library a bit, and you can cut back on the student life/Title 9 nannies and boost the labs, please.

        so, you look for the best package you can find, the one which seems closest to serving your kid’s needs.

      2. dave s. said:

        “And, segue into: colleges offer a package. You don’t get to choose – I’d like my kid’s professor to be tenure track, and you can skip the climbing wall and the cafeteria with four food stations each with its own chef, and beef up the library a bit, and you can cut back on the student life/Title 9 nannies and boost the labs, please.”

        Unfortunately, the nannying is at least somewhat functional. A lot of the frills are there to make sure that kids don’t just drink themselves into a coma (“there’s nothing to dooooo”), wind up the next Brock Turner or (way more expensive for the family than their share of a climbing wall), or jump off a bridge (like that Rutgers kid). It’s like 24/7 daycare.

        Every time the nannying fails, it means that more money needs to be spent on preventing the next embarrassing failure. Wash, rinse, repeat.

  31. Title 9 funding exists solely to counterbalance football. Get rid of football and there would be no “title 9” funding, either.

    1. Title IX isn’t just sports, though.

      My husband reports recently seeing a male and female college student hug and then a third party yelling jokingly, “Title IX!” There must be some big student education push going on that generated that situation.

      Side hugs–not just for Duggars now!

  32. Climbing walls cost virtually nothing (on the scale of university budgets — can be outfitted in existing spaces for less than 100K).

  33. Today’s WSJ writes about a boomer who ran out of cash and had to retire from Cali to Iowa. https://www.wsj.com/articles/with-15-left-in-the-bank-a-baby-boomer-makes-peace-with-less-1487259894 Not that there’s a damn thing wrong with Iowa! But it wasn’t what she had had in mind. The article tangentially mentions geezers with student loan debts, and late-in-life children, and not enough time to recover from big expenditures. I swear it’s not true that they looked for advice from me in writing that article.

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