For our parents and grandparents, going to college wasn’t necessarily a step in gaining a good job and earning a decent living. Fast forward a few decades and everyone assumes that after high school our formal education continues at least four more years.
It’s understood among Gen Y and the Millennials that anyone who wants a well-paying job needs at least an undergraduate degree. But this isn’t an invitation to spend gobs of money to attend any school that accepts you. Likewise, the party scene and the caliber of the football team should have no bearing on your decision.
Instead, take a good look at tuition, fees, room and board, and what level of scholarships and grants are available. In fact, total cost should be a primary consideration for students in their college selection process.
This graph shows college tuition compared with home prices and the overall CPI from 1978 to 2010. (The CPI, or Consumer Price Index, is an overall measure of the cost of a set of goods and services paid by consumers over time.) Since 1978, college tuition has increased by a factor of more than 10x from its base of 100, compared with housing at 4x and the overall CPI at about 3.5x. It’s clear as day that college tuition is quickly becoming our next bubble.
This is the reason grads are in a heap of trouble today. Students simply enrolled in colleges regardless of the cost. They filled out some forms, took a quiz and the money just showed up. Now that they’re graduating and faced with dim job prospects, they’re wondering whether that private school tuition was such a good investment.
What many prospective college students fail to do today is think about the total, long-term cost of going to college. When taking out a car loan or mortgage, there are certain terms laid out by the lender that force us to look at the long-term costs, how long we’ll be in debt, and whether we can afford to make the payments each month going forward. Student loans are much more open-ended because of the various repayment and deferment options, which makes it much harder to assess the total costs beforehand. Plus, high school seniors often have no idea what their salaries will be after graduation, so repayment is far from their minds.
My youngest sister is going to college in the fall, which got me thinking about all of this. She’s going into psychology, but isn’t sure what she wants to do with it. Over the past year we’ve talked about student loans occasionally. I remind her of the financial newspapers and blogs, which go to great lengths to document the effects of crushing debt levels on the lives of grads and their young families.
Some couples are putting off marriage, buying a home or having a baby because of their student loan debt. As an example, my wife and I are putting off saving for a house down payment until we pay off more of our debt.
If you have a child or other family member in high school, talk to them about these issues. Help them understand that they’ll eventually have to pay back all those loans. Let them know about other options like scholarships, grants and even going to community college for a year or two.
A college education is an investment, just like stocks or starting your own business. Therefore, students need to think about whether the benefits outweigh the costs for their chosen school and what their likely salary will be based on their major. This will give them motivation to limit their borrowing and think ahead to the repayment process after graduation.
Photo by businessinsider.com