Is Paying For College at a Crisis?

October 28, 2010

(ChattahBox Op/Ed) – This nation certainly has a long list of ills.  Among the list of worries for the average American  is the cost of paying for college, because at this rate and because the devastation of state funding for public Universities is fading quicker than daylight this time of year, your ability to send your son or daughter to college may just be a dream, and a bad dream at that.

Too many people have had to dip into that once untouchable college fund that was set up for Susie and Johnny years ago to assist in holding onto the house and to pay the cable bill.  As incomes have decreased at a steady pace, the cost of college has substantially increased, the reality of paying for college is creating anxiety all over the country and it will not get better any time soon.

Public Universities depend greatly on their state’s allotment to cover the cost of their students, and it’s that money that is becoming endangered quickly.  What was once a given is no longer a reality and until a healthier economy finds us again, the cost of college will increase, and in some cases at double digit levels on a yearly basis.

The average national cost of sending your kid to school currently stands at $9418.00; a private college is a whopping $27,293 according to the College Board.  What those costs do not take into account in many cases is room/board/books/supplies.  Do some simple math and college is a mountain that is getting more and more difficult to navigate.

Although financial aid and grants are helping substantially, the financial demands, especially on middle income families, are threatening most of those families and their ability to send their kids to college.  As anyone who has applied for financial aid knows all too well, financial aid is next to impossible to get if you find yourself making a middle class income.  It seems almost a punishment to have an average income that is hardly paying the bills as it is.

Is this college financing issue at a crisis?  Maybe not quite yet, but without a plan to assure that college is accessible to those who want it in place, and there is not a plan in place, the future of higher education is at risk of seeing a rapid decrease in admissions over the next decade and that will serve no one well.

Of course there is always the option of student loans as many of those middle class families I wrote about know all too well.  Student loans hold a large percentage of debt for many college families and the ability to pay them has become harder and harder to do as a result of jobs that are not commensurate with the education a student receives.  Leaving college with a four year degree guarantees you nothing today.  Attaining a post graduate degree can increase your odds of gaining employment, but not like it once did, but without at least a four year degree and some post graduate work, the idea that college is a great investment becomes questionable.  It’s a daunting Catch 22.

We need to talk solutions; of course, but is it even responsible to talk about further government funding for college in light of where we are as a country economically?  Is it dangerous to not find a way to provide more funding for college?  Is higher education a right or a privilege?  Where do we cut funding in other areas to provide more funding for higher education?  There are critical questions that must find answers soon or our collective futures will continue to fade to black.

I do believe that college should be available to anyone who wants it. I do believe that to cultivate and educate the minds of my children and your children we must find ways to make that opportunity not just a possibility but a probability.  How we do that is the question of the day.

With all the issues that we are wrestling with as a nation right now, it is my fear that this discussion has fallen so far off the table that it has been kicked into a corner and out of sight, save those that are dealing with its realities right now.

I also believe there are certain cornerstones of the American foundation that mandate we educate our children as responsibly as we can and that we give them a complete and painless opportunity to achieve the dream of a college degree.  I am not suggesting that we make it free and require nothing of college students but to show up and do well.  I worked full time as a college student, as did many of my peers.  Part of the satisfaction of getting my degree were the sacrifices and choices I made to accomplish that goal and I am a better man for those challenges.  But, to build a system of higher education that prohibits young people from participating because of need and need alone cannot be acceptable any longer and we must start now to find ways to ease the financial burden for the student and the family.

Of all the things I write about that I know we disagree on, I would hope that this is not one of them.  At some point and on some level we have to start finding ways to come together on issues we agree on and maybe this would be a wonderful place to start.  Partisanship will always be a central component to politics, but partisanship shouldn’t be a central component to education.  On that I’m sure we can all agree.


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