My two oldest kids went to College. A 4-year University in Illinois. My wife and I had saved faithfully to satisfy this parental obligation. I was stunned by the costs and hidden costs and the quality of what my kids received, especially during their first two years at the “University.”
To put it bluntly, I was matching almost half of their tuition costs so they could live in a University mandated dorm that resembled a cinder-block prison-cell shared with a total stranger. The food was also prison quality from mashed potato flakes to powdered gravy to grey hamburgers, wilted salad and endless trays of canned stuff slopped on a plate. The average annual cost for both of them was $20,000 not including books and anything else.
There was a food option. You could use your “food card” to buy fast food at a number of fast-food locations in the dorms and on-campus. Guess where they ate the most, and why am I not encouraged that my oldest son and daughter ate nothing but pizza and cheeseburgers for the long years they endured?
In my opinion the rising costs for college are out of proportion to the value proved from an educational standpoint; a lifestyle standpoint, and a security standpoint.
Security in dorms is questionable at best and many college campuses are high crime areas related to assault, rape and robbery. Is this really worth $20,000 a year?
My advice to any parent trying to manage College costs is to encourage your student to start at a local Community College
Most kids don’t know they’re major and all they’ll do is repeat high school in those first two college years, with little exposure to anything resembling their major even if they know what they want to do. Curiously, many Community Colleges engage those areas of interest during those first two years.
You’ll also avoid the required dormitory costs that essentially put your kid into a cinder block prison cell with a stranger and a cafeteria that offers equally poor prison food or a junk food ticket.
You’ll also avoid the chaos of the dorm environment where drugs, booze and endless partying compromise any real academic pursuit.
There is also high crime around dorms and within dorms that is rarely reported.
Quite often the cost of living in a dorm exceeds tuition. Parents and kids accept it, but why?
Freedom is one argument. But how often does that unbridled freedom lead to failure at school. It’s a big price to pay for any parent these days, and a crippling burden for students with loans who never graduate.
Save the money, the fear, and the aggravation and encourage your kids to attend a Community college locally for two years. It could save you 70% of what you pay in-state and significantly more for private or out-of-state.
You could also look for Junior Colleges that align with a 4-year college. Many alliances like this are emerging. The student can get a 4-year Bachelor’s degree locally depending on the major and the relationship colleges have with various Universities.
Remember that many kids fail in their first two years. If they surpass that goal they will most likely finish their program and graduate.
A Community college with a two year program can allow a young man or woman to mature, transfer to a 4-year program and graduate in a timely manner.
As important, students with a low grade-point in high-school or a poor ACT score can begin at a Community college, and with good grades get quickly and easily accepted into a University.
There are also statistics to indicate that students who attend a Community college for their first two years graduate on-time. For the record, the statistics aren’t perfect. 1 in 4 graduate from a Community College while 3 in 5 graduate from a 4-Year University. But 4 Years is a myth as well. Many parents and students are strapped when a student needs 5-years to graduate. It’s not an intentional event, but sometime unanticipated and it all adds to either a burden on the parents to provide more money, or increases the loan for the student and the continuing and life-long burden that school loans have created for so many.
Finally, say no to the car. “Dad, Mom, it would be so much easier if I had a car.”
Sure, but most campuses are fairly compact, parking is scarce, ticketing is endemic, and it’s just another cost above everything else. Most students can’t even park remotely close to the campus unless they win a lottery for parking spots. The result is they are walking about the same distance from where they live. Worse, insurance rates for their age are typically high and a campus location doesn’t encourage an underwriter to cut a deal.
Yes, there are all sorts of loans, grants and scholarships you can apply for. But when all else fails common sense prevails. You can experience it the hard way and pay a ton for those first two years at a 4-Year University, or save the money during the first two years at a Community College, and invest it in the last two years leading to a Bachelor’s degree and maybe have enough left to get them to Grad school.
Up to you.