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The True Cost of an Education

I hear Pomp and Circumstance being played by the band; I see mortarboards being thrown in the air. I feel the excitement of my two college aged boys. Then reality smacks me dab in the face and I realize to make this happen it is going to cost about $150,000 per kid for a college education. This sum isn’t from the Ivy League Colleges and Universities.

We refuse to take out student loans have selected state universities and even enrolled in a community college for a year to avoid the “tuition scam” (more on this to follow later) perpetrated upon on youth and their parents. Sure, we would like to give our kids the best of everything but the cost have just gotten out of control and too high. But parents and students are still biting off way more than they will ever be able to chew or hope to digest.

It’s not about a cost differential of a designer purse or pair of sneakers over a generic product, it’s about a life charting detour if taken too lightly.

A college degree is a very valuable thing and of utmost importance. This is especially true today but at what cost? We have become really good consumers when it comes to almost everything else… but not so much when we think the purchase is a necessity for our kiddos. The result?  Students today are graduating with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt with a degree that is not very marketable in a vile economy and a drudge job market. How did this happen?

We bought into the dream that a college degree was paramount but we didn’t factor in the marketing genius most universities have deployed the past 25 years. As much money on campuses goes into stadiums, student recreational facilities and gyms that entice enrollment than money invested into the faculty or curriculums. And when our children ask for something we will at best provide it for them or at least encourage them to obtain it without taking an unemotional, detached view or assessment of the alternatives. It is typical today for a university student to graduate with the equivalent amount of debt that could have easily purchased their first home!

Then the student cannot pay the debt and the net results are horrible credit ratings and even bankruptcies of the student and often their parents. It is a perfect storm. Or better stated a disaster. Facts support that many students cannot even make the first payment on their student loan debt post graduation. The interest rates on these loans are typically very low compared to other forms of consumer debt (eg. Credit cards) and are hyped and marketed, rarely with adequate disclosure and lack of guidance or counseling. Geez, these are teenagers after all that are signing up for this debilitating debt load.

And while the hype of higher lifetime earnings can be higher for a college degree employee, it often is not enough or comes soon enough to pay off the loans required to get the degree. Sounds sort of like a scam, no? The scam part is that the cost of college and tuition has way exceeded the rate of inflation by as much as 10% per year in some areas. And the default rate on student loans last year was 7% in the first year! This does not include private student loans or those that are behind on their payments… imagining the debacle looming?

Collection calls and threatening letters make life miserable and can literally ruin and destroy ones future. Suicides have been attributed to debt overload. Why are we allowing ourselves and our children to do this? Don’t we love our children?

A single old neglected student loan of just $2,000 from 20 years ago can be as much as $30,000 today due to fees and interest. They do not just go away. Learn about Forbearance or deferment or forgiveness but seek the advice and guidance of a professional and/or a CPA as serious income tax implications can result in almost every decision when a loan default occurs. There are also government agencies that can assist with counseling and guidance. Trust me; it’s less scary to face this issue head on than to keep ignoring it.

And for those of you who’ve not had to face this decision yet for your children, congrats! Do not take the route of loans over prudent affordable college choice. Tough love today is much less tough than a foreclosure or bankruptcy or worse, in the future. What hurts your kids hurts you much worse.