May 1–College Decision Day

iStock_000012832142XSmallRecently in the Struming, The College Visit, I looked at the process of visiting many universities and listening to the schpiel of the wonderfulness of each college. Each one sounded great and I am ready to go back in time and go back to school (“Class…I have no class”). As I said in the earlier Struming, I really have enjoyed the process of travelling to many colleges and spending time with our son, Carl, even if he felt it was sometimes boring. Yet even he knows the process helped him make his decision (see below)

But April is crunch time. As parents of high school seniors know, May 1 is the final decision day for college selection for the 2012 fall semester. Since the average student will have applied to 6-8 schools and be admitted on average to 50% of them, it’s likely they will decide among several potential schools. April is the month of admitted student open houses, tours etc. with lots of communications from the universities to their admitted students.

How does a student decide which school to attend in the fall? Actually 18-year olds often base their decisions on superficial things—dorms, food, athletics teams, mascots, etc. These are things important to an 18-year old. Or perhaps because they think the school they like is strong in the major they selected, not unimportant, but alas many students ultimately change majors—some several times.

But with April crunch time comes the financial realities of the staggering cost of higher ed. College is very expensive. Cost and ROI are the elements of concern to the payer, whether it’s the parent or whether it’s through student loans. The rate of increase of college cost continues to skyrocket.

The Philadelphia Inquirer did an excellent job in the Sunday April 14 issue looking at the cost of college in its article, Highly educated, deeply in debt. With annual cost of tuition, room, board, fees now ranging from $20,000+ in state colleges to $60,000 at high-end private universities schools like NYU, the financial burden is greater than ever. A few key factoids from the article are as follows:

1. Nationally, the average debt per student is $25,000 according to 2010 data from the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) and roughly 2/3 of students nationwide have loans.

2. 10% of students graduate with high debt of $40,000 or more, up from 3% in 1996 according to the Project on Student Debt. The % is highest among African American students at roughly 16%

3. The trend is to reward merit rather than need, so according to the University of Southern California’s Center for  Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice, and the Education Conservancy the cost of college for families with incomes of $100,000 annually has fallen 18% in recent years while the cost of college for families earning less than $35,000 has increased 14%. Again this places a disproportionate burden on students from less affluent homes.

As families make the college decisions the dollar plays a bigger role in the decision, as it should. The burden on making financial decisions for an 18-year old far exceeds their ability to truly comprehend the magnitude which translates into defaulted loans, ruined credit standing, and inability to secure other loans down the line.  That’s why the local, lower cost community colleges are becoming far more popular as the academic starting place for many.

41799_120090728070755_589571417_nI wish all 18-year olds have the wisdom to balance cost, quality, and make a wise decision. Regarding our son Carl, we are proud that he has decided to become a Husky and attend the University of Connecticut in the fall as a business major. U Conn is a terrific school and is a great value for Connecticut residents, but alas pricey for out-of staters. Yet, as I told him in the process, I believe he will be happy and successful wherever he goes and whatever he does. Off to U Conn he will go. Strum on, Carl….

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