“Get a college degree and you’ll get ahead.”
That is the message that has inspired young people for generations to study, save and sometimes even beg, borrow (too much) and sadly even steal (hello, Varsity Blues) to get one. But is it worth it? That’s a question on a lot of folks’ minds. Especially now. Candidly, I’m fielding calls daily from parents and colleagues alike, questioning whether it’s worth it to pay thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars for a ‘traditional’ college experience.
It’s a fair question, though not a new one. I have been talking about the value proposition of higher ed, especially for ‘forgotten middle class’ families, for years. Incidentally, my answers about whether college is worth it might surprise you. Again, it’s about value – making sure the return matches the investment (financial and mental), because the net net of it is this: there is little doubt that today’s and future generations of students will need education and training well beyond what high schools today are providing to become financially successful. And that will require some level of upfront effort and investment on your part. You can learn more about these numbers right here at collegepete.com, or check out this book I wrote a few years back on college affordability for the ‘forgotten’ middle class.)
Anyhow, back to what has me pondering this topic today. Last week I met with an 11th grader and their parents. The student has an excellent academic record. S/he’s earning mostly As in rigorous classes and has deep extra-curricular involvement.
The standardized test scores are…good; not top tier, but they could be. As it stands today, the scores would be high enough to earn the Bright Futures FL Medallion Award but not enough to earn a Bright Futures FL Scholars Award which would include 100% of tuition and fees at a FL public university. Here’s the dilemma.
With the right test prep, I’m confident that this student could crush that 1340 barrier and not only earn the FL Scholars Award, but also deliver a score that is highly competitive to earn significant Institutional Merit Scholarships at many of the more generous universities under consideration. In this case the math makes sense for making an investment in test prep (assuming that the student would apply the mental effort to accompany the financial one). For an investment $1-2K in prep today, this family could yield a minimum $6K, and perhaps many times that number, as a scholarship return. The problem is that this student is not too keen about signing up for test prep, which brings me to my next point.
It’s not troubling to me that the value of a college education is being called into question. I welcome that discussion. What’s bothersome is the lack of conversation about how to ensure you will extract the value inherent in your post-high school education (regardless of where you go for that education). Outside of my conversations and writing, I haven’t seen much light being shed on where the real value in higher ed can be found and how to make that value accessible AND affordable to regular families in the first place. Though I did see this report last week out of North Carolina, showing a substantial ROI ($500K) for a college degree from that state’s university system. Surely, other states can show similar results.
I’ve done the research and the math — and have been able to demonstrate over and over again that with the right strategy, college should cost about the same (or less as a percent of your income) as it did in 1957, in 1987, in 2007 and today (Why College Should Cost Less in 1957 Than Today). Hint, though colleges have raised their published prices by more than 250% over that time period, they have also introduced a discounting strategy, with the average discount rate now exceeding 56%.
But even beyond the numbers, there is the oft-overlooked component that includes a student’s preparation and readiness for post high school life. We shouldn’t treat college as 13th grade…our students need to have focus and intent when approaching where they’ll thrive academically, aspirationally and socially. Take a look at 5 year graduation rates (yes, 5 year) and then consider the cost benefit of your child being able to buck this trend. Our guidance program, and others like it, prepare our students not just to ‘get into’ a college, but to succeed at the right college for them (which includes one that offers a path that actually complements their skill set and interests them – and is offered to them at a net price that their parents can comfortably afford). In doing so, our families enjoy a real return on their college investments.
If your child is in 10th or especially 11th grade, now is the time to ensure that when they are entering 12th grade, they do so with a financially sound admissions strategy AND a completed college application that will help him/her gain admission to (and graduate from) a college that you can actually afford — with a degree they can use in today’s world.
Are there real concerns about the tenor on college campuses today and our turning into an over-educated, under-employed and deeply indebted people? Yes, there are. But there are also real personal strategies that you can implement to ensure your child is at the right place – for the right price point. But, you have to take action. Don’t let this year end without learning the difference between what a college education costs and what a college education should cost YOU (hint: it’s rarely the sticker prices you see on school websites).
You can find out now — not after your child has fallen in love with a photo of autumn foliage on a brochure – how to research and select schools that are the right fit for your student and the right price for your family. If you don’t know where to start, give me a call, or at the very minimum, search this site for the articles I referenced above.
And, if you have already come to one of my webinars, or met with me, it’s probably time to get off the proverbial fence and give us a call today, while we can still do something to make college more accessible AND affordable…well before the applications are due or the bill is in hand, when you’re in crisis mode and you’re options are limited. Every year I hear from parents, “I wish I met you a year or two ago!”. Please don’t be those parents.