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College reality

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

In a few weeks tens of thousands of young Americans will leave home and begin the “college experience”. As they descend on campuses across the country, they will be greeted by impressive buildings, acclaimed alumni, elaborate social functions, and luxury hotel-like accommodations. In addition to getting used to their new “homes”, these newly minted adults will be asked to select majors that prepare them for post college employment.

Interestingly, the university structure and incentives may not always be aligned with what is best for students.

Universities are broken into departments. Each department is responsible for running a profitable business or demonstrating that there is enough demand for its offerings that it would be foolish for the university to close the department. Departments like engineering generally have large research budgets, so they are less concerned about student enrollment than departments like the humanities and social sciences that have fewer research dollars.

As might be expected, the departments with fewest research dollars generally work hardest to convince students to select majors within their purview. Until 15-20 years ago, this model worked well, because it was possible to obtain high quality employment with a wide variety of university degrees.

Technology has improved access to information so much that many jobs related to compiling, organizing, and disseminating information have already been or are being eliminated. Careers that have been hardest hit are law, social sciences, and the humanities.

Since there are fewer job opportunities for people with these degrees, many college graduates find it difficult to procure jobs that pay a premium over what was available to them before they attended college.

This shift creates a dilemma for the parents of a child who did not develop a proclivity for math in high school. Does the parent have the resources to send the child to college so he/she can graduate without debt and go on to a job that he/she most likely could have obtained without attending college? Is it better to consider a high paying trade like plumbing or electricity, rather than expending money on college? Or is it wiser to encourage the child to go to a community college and learn math, so he/she has the skills to obtain a college degree with higher earning potential?

It is a tough decision, but is something that should be discussed before a family blindly spends large sums of money on a college education that does little to improve a child’s long term earning potential.

Graduating? Here’s What to Know About Your Student Loans

The New York Times – Ann Carrns

“Whether the speaker at your college graduation is the Apple chief executive Tim Cook (M.I.T.) or the actress Eva Longoria (Knox College), the event signals the end of your undergraduate career — and moves you that much closer to having to repay your student loans. Most federal student loans come with at least a six-month grace period, a time during which you don’t have to make monthly payments. For spring graduates, that means repayment is likely to begin sometime in November or December. That gives new graduates some breathing room — to find a job, rent or buy an apartment, or buy a car — before starting to make payments. But many borrowers, despite studying hard to earn a degree, are uneducated about the type of loan they have, how long it will take to repay, what their monthly payment is likely to be and other important details, according to research from Prudential Financial. So they may be caught off guard when it comes time to begin repayment.”(more)

What science says about avoiding student debt

USA today – Jen Zettel

“Researchers at the Wisconsin HOPE Lab study how people pay for college, whether college is considered affordable and how public policy affects universities, students and their families. The lab is composed of people from various disciplines — economists like Anderson, sociologists, public policy analysts — who ask questions about college in Wisconsin and find the answers. A few of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab’s findings.”(more)

The Best Time to Start Saving for Your Child’s College Education

Kiplinger – Scott Vance

“Imagine dropping your kid off at college for the first time. It’s bound to be an emotional day for everyone—just ask any parent who has already done it. Now imagine that same day, and add worrying about whether you can afford all the costs that come with higher education.”(more)

Hey Students, Applying For College Aid Is Easier! (But Still Hard)

NPR – Cory Turner

“When the Obama administration announced last year that it would overhaul the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, prospective college students (and their parents) cheered. “Today, we’re lending a hand to millions of high school students who want to go to college and who’ve worked hard,” said Arne Duncan, who was at that time U.S. secretary of education. “We’re announcing an easier, earlier FAFSA.” And it is both.”(more)

These Are the ‘Building Blocks’ That Lead to Smart Money Decisions

Time Money – Dan Kadlec

“These three skills are essential, and should begin to be understood as young as 3 years old. How do kids learn sound money practices? The answers have eluded financial educators for years, and the lack of clarity as to what works best has fueled resistance to pouring more resources into the effort, especially in schools. Critics make many valid points. But they also jump to a faulty conclusions. And as Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said recently: “I have never found [the resistance] convincing. To me, all it says is that we simply have not yet been at this work long enough.” The need for broad financial education has never been more apparent.”(more)