It used to be widely accepted that going to college would lead to a good-paying job, so families saved and borrowed money in order to send their children to school. Unfortunately, the economic downturn is affecting our ability to make, save and borrow money for our day-to-day expenses, making college less affordable for many families. Moreover, students are not only vying against other high school grads to get a spot, but now out-of-work adults are returning to school in record numbers. And now, even with a bachelor’s degree, there’s no guarantee that a college degree will land our kids a job. The recession has hit our children’s hopes for higher education.
What can we do about it?
“You cannot think about going to college today without thinking about how to pay for it,” says Carol, a New Yorker who has a checklist for her daughter, Julie, who is now a high school sophomore.
“Start looking at colleges as soon as possible,” advises Carol, who started during her daughter’s freshman year.
The junior year of high school is generally the time that most students start visiting campuses. However, in the current economic climate, their list of preferred schools may take longer to weed through because the families require more time to look for funding.
The criteria for choosing a school should include which setting fits your child the best; cost, including tuition, books, room, board, and distance; majors offered; school ranking; loans, grants and scholarships available; environment; reputation; crime rate — on and off campus — and lots more. It is also important that the student’s grade point average and learning style is one that can meet the requirements of the college and is one that will be a good fit for her learning style.
In addition to finding out which colleges meet your child’s needs, it is critical that all financial info is up-to-date and available when the college applications and financial aid packages have to be filled out and turned in. Keep an eye on deadlines and requirements for financial aid, scholarships, loans and grants. The transition from high school to college is a process — and largely a financial one.
“Don’t be afraid to ask a college for a re-evaluation of your financial aid package. Learn the art of the bargain,” says Kristen Campbell, executive director of Kaplan college prep programs. According to Campbell, financial aid is one of colleges’ biggest recruiting tools.
“Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to take the first financial aid package that is offered to you,” says Campbell. “By the time a school accepts you as a student, it sees you as a worthwhile investment on its part, so it will usually want to help you figure out financing. Schools want to work with families and students to find a way to make themselves affordable.”
Campbell says a Kaplan 2010 survey saw an increase in the number of students entering college in a gap year. So, if college is not affordable right now, consider enrolling in the next year or two, while you continue to look for the right package — and your student can take advantage of that time to bank some money — at least to cover the cost of books.
Schools are also seeing a rise in students transferring from top 10 and other four-year colleges to community colleges because of affordability.
“The rise in interest in transferring also seems to be because more middle-class students that would not usually go to a community college otherwise, are going because it’s simply more affordable — even though they still want to transfer to a great school after two years,” explains Chris Goodmacher, co-author of “The Transfer Book,” and its blog, www.thetra
“A major market correction will occur in the college selection process. Students and families will move away from selecting colleges with ‘coffee table cache’ and high stock prices, and instead lean toward lesser-known schools offering high-quality education at a reasonable price,” predicts Jacquelyn Nealon, EdD, vice president of New York Institute of Technology. “Focus will shift from the cost of higher education to the value of high education. Families will emphasize reducing loan debt, earning impactful degrees that result in good jobs right after graduation, and learning about our ‘shrinking world’ through an emphasis on global education.”
It is evident that the recession is causing students to re-think their educational prospects. Surprisingly, for some, there is value in going into hock for a prestigious degree. The current high unemployment — and underemployment — rates are contributing factors.
“Top-tier colleges are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of applications that they receive,” says Barry Lenson, a college counselor and blogger at MyUsearch.com and Straighterline.com, where he comments on college education and educational funding. “I think it is because students and their families believe that a degree from a top school will assure a job after graduation. Interesting that this trend is insulating Harvard and the other elite schools from harm during this post-recessionary period.” Of course, enrollment in an Ivy League school may not result in graduation from that school or guarantee a lucrative post-graduation job.
Parents and their students should have an ongoing dialogue about college and how to make it happen. To assist families in the process of evaluating their options, college admission counselors in both the public and private sectors are available. There are also several online resources that can help manage the student’s educational needs and evaluate what a particular college has to offer. Many companies, such as Connected, www.connectedu.com, offer information and services to students, and the adults who work with them, to assist in the process.
There are options out there that can make college more affordable. With research, planning and paperwork, students can realize their dreams of earning a degree that is personally fulfilling and will help lead them to a promising career.
Candi Sparks is the author of the “Can I Have Some Money?” book series and is on Facebook and Twitter. She is the mother of two and currently resides in Brooklyn.