After a lifetime of a free K-12 education, many students and their families are not sure how they can afford college. Those price tags trigger the gag reflex — $30K, $55K, $70K — few people have spare cash in those numbers in their yearly budget. Kids who come from families with no college experience and lower/ lower-middle class families are particularly vulnerable. But I see kids from families in towns, like ours, making expensive mistakes as well.
The fear of the price causes some to miss out on opportunities. Some don’t fill out FAFSA forms and leave Pell Grant money on the table. They under-match, meaning they could be attending a more selective school. They don’t take advantage of the federal loans — a little loan is a good thing. They see people from their community who fail out of school, and it makes them even more nervous about investing in college. It’s possible to be too timid.
Others ignore the price tag and are too aggressive about their higher ed spending. They pay a lot for degrees that could be gotten for much cheaper at the community college. They attend private colleges, and won’t consider the in-state public college.
Graduate degrees are now responsible for 40 percent of the country’s $1.5 trillion student loan debt. Yes, a bunch of it goes to law and medical programs; presumably those students will be able to quickly repay that debt. But there are a whole lot of other masters programs, which don’t lead to huge paychecks — social work, hospital administration, criminal justice.
If a family hasn’t put away enough money in 529 over 17 years to afford a pricy private school and that family makes a dollar over the Pell Grant cut-off, then a public school is really the best option. (I’m assuming that we’re thinking about an average kid, not the student with 1,600 SATs or can run a 4 minute mile.) In some cases, it’s necessary to attend a community college for two-years and then transfer to a four-year college. Take a look at whether you can get to your career goals with an associate degree and skip the BA all together.
I don’t think that previous paragraph is ground breaking. And it’s not a tragedy. Public colleges are great right now. Sure, the kids are a little bit of a number and get an industrial-grade education, but for most kids, it’s fine. And many places, like Wall Street and Silicon Valley, like those public college as much, if not more, than Ivy League students. They have massive alumni base to give kids an edge in the workplace at least for first jobs.
While you and I might say that public schools are fine and good and make college affordable to just about everyone, a lot of people don’t know that. In part, it’s because we have guidance counselor crisis in the country. In Arizona, there are something like 700 students for every guidance counselor. If a student doesn’t get that info from home, then they apply to schools blindly. Young people aren’t capable of understanding money, so they either become too conservative or too aggressive in their higher ed purchases.
Since we’re talking about education reform, better education about college affordability should be on the list.