It’s been two weeks of college graduations for some of my younger friends and now that they have their sheepskins a couple of them are beginning to talk about one of the more onerous aspects of getting a degree today, Student Loans.
I am appalled at the cost of a four-year college degree here in California. It’s rare to find a student who doesn’t leave school with more than $17,000 in student loans and pretty routine to hear about young men and women who graduate owing $24,000 or more. And this is in a state that was tuition free for almost one hundred years.
I’m pretty fortunate, I guess, I may have been among the last group of young adults who could work their way through college without student loans.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to get my degree back from the framers on the same day I got a billing statement for my student loans.
Actually, I can imagine it. I think I would be seriously bummed.
Listening to the Bill Gates/Steve Jobs discussion at the All Things D conference last week, coupled with seeing a young lady I watched grow up who graduated late last month really started me thinking about the high cost of a college education today.
First things first, both Gates and Jobs agree that meeting the educational needs of today’s technology driven work force may be one of the biggest problems companies like Apple and Microsoft face today and in the future. Now consider this in context: neither Gates nor Jobs graduated from college (although I’m willing to bet a C-note their kids will).
When I look at young college students on campuses here in California, I try to put myself in their shoes or sandals. I wonder how horribly daunting it must be to think that, as a college student today: ”I’m going to need to borrow $20,000 or more to get a freaking four-year Bachelor’s degree, then maybe find a way to finagle enough cash to get a Master’s, while keeping body and soul alive.”
It’s a frightening thought for legions of kids with the intellectual drive and necessary credentials to get into a four-year college today.
So now we come to the other component in the equation, students' parents, many of whom are co-signers to those necessary loans. How do you think they feel about guaranteeing several score thousand bucks at a time when many are worried about a forced early or forthcoming retirement?
College tuition costs are going up in California and most other states. And there are virtually no 100 percent scholarships for kids who aren’t superstar jocks. Something is horribly wrong here.
It’s much more important to turn out competent lawyers, teachers, engineers, public servants and other professionals than it is to get a team into the Toilet Bowl or some other nonsensical college holiday post season game. I’m sure most college presidents are aware of this, yet they continue to grant full ride scholarships to classes of students who are least likely to make major societal contributions.
But wait there’s more. There’s another class of student that gets really hit by the current high cost of a college education. That class is the returning veteran, who because of their age, life experience and maturity are much more likely to be in need of financial assistance than your typical 19 or 20 year old sophomore. First, today’s GI Bill bears no resemblance to the GI Bill of World War II and Korea. If the soldier, sailor, marine, airman, (or woman) or Coastie, sets aside a fixed amount of their monthly pay check, the government matches that amount, and disbursement begins when the veteran begins college and lasts until the funds are exhausted. Sadly, most colleges still think of the GI Bill in terms of its original late 1940’s model. But, it’s better than nothing, although few colleges reserve spots on admissions’ lists for veterans.
I have an suggestion for Mssr’s Gates and Jobs: How about you set up new educational/tuition assistance programs for the children of your employees? It may help solve some of your concerns about the educational level and suitability of their future workforce and it sure as hell could become an important draw in recruiting dedicated new employees.
To the producers of the Wall Street Journals All Things D conference? Don’t you think it’s time to suggest that industry titans put their money where their mouths are? What about it Kara and Walt?
Finally, soaring tuition costs seem to be outpacing inflation. Yet, as a country we absolutely have to invest in the education of future generations. And to do this we need to face the dichotomy of making under graduate degrees more meaningful to industry and more affordable to middle class families.
Todate, I believe we’re failing on both fronts.
But I firmly believe that somewhere out in the wiregrass the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Henry Ford is probably hitting the books for SAT exams or tinkering with a new web-based application. Such potential students are much more valuable to our society than a young jock whose name will be forgotten six months after his last college bowl performance.—Jim Forbes on 06/04/2007.
(disclosure, I have two children, and I made a decision that one of the most important things I could do as a man and a Father, was pay as much of my children’s college tuition as I could and eliminate their need to get student loans—JMF)