March 28, 2013
A College Education: It's Time To Face Reality!
Although the cost of college for me was nowhere near the astronomical expense it is today, it was nonetheless a burden upon our family, and each of us five kids struggled to find ways to pay for that all-important diploma.
As the oldest, I was kind of the test case for finding ways to finance a college education. At the time, I qualified for a Guaranteed Student Loan from the federal government. I also worked each summer, saving my meager earnings, and then was employed by the University of Texas during the school year as a Resident Assistant in one of the women's dormitories, where I received free room and board. The idea was to borrow the least amount of money as possible. I don't think I will ever forget my $53.45/month payment for 10 years, which paid back my total 4-year expenditure of $6000. The first payment was due six months after graduation, and it seemed like a huge albatross around my neck!
But that is nothing compared to the anchor around my sister's first-born. Like myself, my niece had to borrow money to fund her college education, but her 4-year degree is costing her $80,000! And to add to that enormous burden, my sister and her husband took out a second mortgage on their home!! Now, I love my sister and niece, dearly, but for the life of me, I cannot understand how they cannot see the folly of their decisions. Oh, wait a minute, perhaps I do ....
In 2008, during the hotly contested Presidential election, my sister was eager to tell me why she was voting for Obama. "He has promised to help the middle class pay for college tuition; he thinks it is the right of everyone to have a college education." Now, you need to understand, that we are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to a desire to let the government "help us". I tried to keep my cool as I asked her, "And just how do you think he plans on paying for that assistance to everyone who wants to go to college?" Having been educated as a Social Worker, she received a Liberal dose of "social justice" before that term was even invented. Therefore, I doubt she had even given a thought as to where the government might get such funding. I calmly and deliberately told her, "He will raise taxes on everyone -- and that includes you as well as me --- and I'm sorry, but it is not my responsibility to pay for your child's education (as much as I adore her)!"
Well, it is exactly that mentality that now finds 22.7% of borrowers defaulting on their student loans. Many, like my niece, have been unable to find gainful employment; and like her, are working as teacher's aides for less than 40 hours a week, so employers don't have to offer benefits. I know she never intended to still be living at home, and dreamed of a high-paying job working for a non-profit organization. (I know, I know --- that's an oxymoron --- but that's what comes from being raised by a father who is a High School Principal and steeped in the union rhetoric of the Teachers Education Assocation). Her solution for pushing past the sluggish economy and lack of employment? She's going to Graduate School! I have tried to talk to my sister and make her see that this massive pileup of debt is going to come crashing down at some point, but they are still immersed in the old paradigm where a college degree is the ultimate goal. And a Graduate Degree will surely guarantee that lucrative job, right?
If they would just consider these few facts, they might see that they are digging a hole they will never climb out of:
• Education costs are rising with each passing year. At some point, the return on your investment is not worth it.
• They have not considered the fiscal repercussions of the debt my niece is accumulating. Should she be unable to pay back her loans, and finds it necessary to default, she may never recover from the fallout. For instance, she may never qualify to buy her own home; another American dream that is disappearing.
• Her parents felt they "owed" her a college education, and have now jeopardized their own retirement and financial stability.
• I'm sure they were counting on the Student Loan Forgiveness Act to relieve them of their burden, falling into that mindset that society should pay for everyone to go to college. But in the end, that burden will be too large for society; the current price tag is $120 Billion in loan debts and climbing higher.
And that's where the Bubble will most likely pop! I am amazed that there is still such a large segment of society that is still following the old model. Whenever anyone will listen, I advocate learning a trade, such as an electrician, plumber or mechanic. I realize they are not "sexy" professions, but I would be willing to bet that if you have one of these skills, you've got a job!
Let me be perfectly clear, I am not discounting a college education; I am a huge proponent of learning and gaining knowledge. But let's be smart, people! More than ever, it is important to consider what degree you will be investing in and the likelihood of securing employment upon graduation. I daresay one can no longer afford four years (or five, or six) of trying "to discover yourself". Times have truly changed, and the future is not as rosy, and certainly not guaranteed. Now is not the time for attaining pleasure through the gaining of useless knowledge. Now is the time for a little planning, hard work and looking at alternatives.
Proverbs 2:10-11 When wisdom enters your heart, And knowledge is pleasant to your soul, Discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you