“The Road to College is Paved with Gold”

College.  For many families, it’s an attainable reality.  For others, it’s merely a dream.  In either case, society is proving time and again how difficult it can be to get a sustainable full-time job without some college experience, if not a four-year degree.  While there are several career paths that do not require a college education, it is still a highly desired qualification by many employers.

In her latest article, our executive director and founder — Carole Richards — discusses the “gold” that is required to go to school…and what can be expected in return.

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The Road to College is Paved with Gold
by Carole Richards

Published May 2, 2016

The total amount of American student loan debt is now $1.3 trillion spread out over 43.3 million borrowers.  The average student loan debt for the class of 2015 was $35,000. Student loan delinquency is 11.6% but $239.5 billion are in deferment, forbearance (can’t make your current payment but don’t qualify for a deferment) or default.  A Harvard study found that due to the cost of college, many students are dropping out without a degree and yet with lots of debt.

The average cost of tuition and fees at a private, non-profit, four-year university this school year was $31,231—up sharply from $1,832 in 1971-1972 (in current dollars).  At public, four-year schools, tuition and fees cost about $9,139 this year. In the 1971 school year, they added up to less than $500 in current dollars, according to the College Board.

“If you look at the long-term trend, [college tuition] has been rising almost six percent above the rate of inflation,” said Ray Franke, a professor of education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.  “That’s brought immense pressure from the media and general public, asking whether college is still worth it.”

So why is college so expensive?  First, in order to compete for the best and brightest, colleges have increased student services by 17% since 2000.  College sports programs are not always funded by the programs and the cost is passed onto the students whether they play a sport or not.  This is particularly true in Division 1 schools.

Payrolls have expanded by 28% due to increasing enrollments but much of the staff is for student services.  Yet, less full-time faculty are being hired and replaced with less expensive part-time staff.

Colleges argue that they now receive less government funding for their schools.  Yet, we  consumers must tighten our belts when we don’t have enough money.  Colleges haven’t yet learned that economic lesson.  And our government keeps encouraging students to enroll in college.  Colleges know that student loans are available so they have an open checkbook to continue to raise tuition.

While universities say they need to provide better student services and pristine buildings, wouldn’t it be better to lower tuition and allow students to afford college?

Good News –If your student is exceptionally bright, there are some great deals at the most elite schools.  Stanford University’s tuition is $46,000.  Any family with an income less than $125,000 receives free tuition.  You still have to pay room and board.

Harvard College tuition and fees amounts to $66,900, but 70% of Harvard students receive some form of financial aid. A Harvard education is more affordable than a state school for 90% of American families.

My two adult children graduated from college in 1998 and 2002.  I am grateful that I do not have to face the huge tuition bills of today at all colleges.  Both graduated with no student debt from private colleges.

The road to college is paved with gold for the schools. I’m not sure the students fare as well when they graduate in many cases.  Maybe it is time for colleges to tighten their belts, too.


Carole Richards is president of North Coast Tutoring Services, president/director of the Academic Fun & Fitness Camp at Lakeland Community College, author of Richards Learning Systems ®.  She is a frequent guest on radio and TV.  She can be reached at caroler@northcoasted.com.

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Dave Hoffman