Financing the Future

19 August 2006

About this time 19 years ago, I was trundled off to college. My family hadn't done a lot of financial planning for this event and I didn't have much in the way of scholarships to the university I chose. We did end up with some college loans (I believe we topped out at $10K). I definitely remember the "sticker shock" of going shopping for books each semester. How could a few textbooks eat up over $100?

Obviously times change and costs rise. According to a recent article in USA Today, the cost of books each semester is now nearly $1000. It has reached a point where many students either find ways to share books or go completely without. Continued increases in tuition and other fees means an ever larger need for student loans and debt after graduation. Will students who need to pay back $20K in loans choose a lower-paying job, even if they are interested in a public-service area (or teaching)?

The author of the article wonders what impacts all of this will have on the future of America. As college becomes more difficult to afford, a much slimmer slice of the student population will continue their education. Meanwhile, India and China are pouring money into their higher ed programs. Will we have to continue to either outsource or import people in order to work in many industries?

What I'm left thinking about after reading the article is one of the stated purposes behind the standards-based education movement: to prepare every student to be college ready. Not every kid continues their education after high school, but the idea is to give everyone an equal opportunity in terms of their background. I have seen far too many kids with college dreams stopped because of financial concerns---even though they had the educational tools to be successful. Some of these were sure they'd get scholarships. They didn't. Maybe educating students and parents about the realities of college costs at a much earlier time in the educational timeline would be prudent. If we are saying that every child will be college ready based on their trip through the public education system, then we need to have a stronger partnership with families in order to make higher education a reality for the students who want it.

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