Even if the current economic downturn begins to ease this year, millions of American high school seniors are just now beginning the process by which they will be admitted to a college or university. Once the joy of admission passes, however, the reality of the financial burden which they — and their families — will assume will take away much of that earlier joy.
American higher education has become one of the most expensive products for sale in this country. The double-digit increases in tuition over the past several decades have now created a situation in which public education, once intended for every qualified citizen is now financially out of reach for vast numbers of those young men and women who would most profit from the experience. But those who are in the final stages of choosing a college or university are being asked to take on amounts of debt which can literally cripple their post-university lives for decades.
I have been teaching in universities, mostly public, for the past 30 years. In that time I have come to believe several things about college and university admissions that would, in my opinion, be of assistance to would-be students and their families in deciding where to attend.
I offer those to you now:
Seriously consider spending your first two college years at a good junior college. In many cases the instructional program will be equal or superior to a four-year college. The first two years of college are years of massive discovery and learning. Doing this in a comfortable environment in which the instructors are primarily teachers has major benefits. The transition from high school to junior college is often much less stressful than from high school to a huge four-year university. Just as important, junior college is far less expensive than a four-year university. Tuition and fees are substantially lower. Further, if you attend a junior college you can often live at home, which can be a real savings.
Recognize that when you are living on borrowed dollars, as most students will be, every expenditure made costs far more than the price you pay. Every dollar you spend of borrowed money will need to be repaid later with interest. You must ask yourself what you really need. Do you really need an expensive television or stereo system? Can you make your own morning coffee rather than pay several dollars at a fancy coffeehouse? Do you really need a car on campus? Students who realize that they are spending borrowed money and that they will eventually have to repay that money with interest in the future, are more likely to be frugal.
Remember that what you are paying for is a education. Everything beside that is unnecessary. And education is a two-way street. If you do not prepare for class, read the assigned materials or attend class, then you might as well not pay all that tuition. When you don’t do the work needed to learn what you have signed up to learn, the only person you’re cheating is yourself. There will come a day when that knowledge you should have learned will come in handy; unfortunately, you won’t possess it.
The era of good times at universities, of partying, playing around and generally just having a grand old time for four years, is over for most people. Higher education is very likely to be the most expensive asset most Kansans acquire in their lifetimes. Thus, extensive thought and planning should be put into the task and the educational process should be taken seriously to gain the best value for the many dollars it will cost.