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Should College Be Free?

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WARNING: This is a completely non-political article. If you’re looking to start a political argument, look elsewhere.

But if you’re looking for the purely educational and economical truth, then read on…

Should college be free? It’s a question that’s back in the news again, as NY Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his plan to make certain students accepted into NY State schools eligible for free tuition.

On it’s face, it might seem like a good thing. I mean, why not? Student loan debt has topped $1.3 trillion in the U.S.  It’s gotten to the point where it’s holding back our economy in a number of surprising ways.

We all want to alleviate this burden…so couldn’t this be the solution?

Sadly, it isn’t.

(And this is coming from people whose mission is to make college more affordable and purposeful for students!)

Let’s start by debunking the notion of “free” here. See, under these kinds of plans, college isn’t really free. These plans cover tuition, but do nothing to help with room, board and books (which can cost as much or more than tuition itself).

And these plans are only talking about public state schools–not private two- and four-year institutions (that outnumber our nation’s public state schools by about 800!).

And to add one more piece to the puzzle the money has to come from somewhere. It’s estimated that the New York plan probably affect about 200,000 students and cost tax-payers around $163 million.

But, for argument’s sake, let’s say the room, board, books, and tax dollars are all non-factors. (In truth, they’re small tactical matters–especially when it comes to the greater good).

Why, then, shouldn’t college be free for the greater good?

Because it truly (again, sadly) wouldn’t be for the greater good. It could have the opposite affect.

You see, college is an asset. Higher education is an asset. And like any asset, there is inherent value.

Whether we’re talking about a degree from a four-year public, four-year private, two year technical, community or trade school, this is an asset that will yield you a better future and earning potential in the world. And there’s value to that. So, we should be paying for that. (Not to the tune of $40-$60k/year! But more on that later…)

Right now, the average community college degree is about $5k/year–yielding an average starting salary of $40-$50k/year! There’s value to that. That’s a heck of a return on investment!

Especially because, as we look at the world of work, the need for technical degrees is exploding. This includes technicians…associates degreed workers……skilled workers…basically, people who can do things with their hands.

See, we are running out of people who know how to do these kinds of jobs…and, if you’ve hired an electrician or plumber recently, you know that they’re rates are going up. (Hint: it’s due to lack of competition.)

Yet, the majority of Americans still think a traditional four-year college is always the way to go (and in many cases, it is! Just not in all cases). So they’re willing to pay for these four-year degrees, to the tune of $80-$240k over four years, to earn average salaries equal to those who spent $10k total on a technical or associates degree.

Now, don’t get us wrong. All degrees are valuable–to the extent that they’re yielding a good return on investment. But to take away the cost would be to take away the value.

What would we create to then be next when it came to hiring qualifications? Where would we go from there? With what would we replace the four-year degree’s value?

This is not going to solve the problem of student loan debt.

Now, as we said, higher education should definitely not cost $80-$240k for four years. There is no bachelor’s degree in the country worth that.

So what can be done to solve this problem? The answer is YOU can start now.

YOU, as a consumer, have the power to make smart decisions for your family.

YOU are empowered to research, understand, and buy college for the proper return on investment–creating a generation of successful new adults whose skills match our new economy and aren’t hindered by the extreme financial burden of debt.

Be empowered. Know that you have options. And work those options.  

Getting Into the “Dream School”

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Ah, the Dream School. Every student has one.

Dream Schools can be based on many things–sports teams, the weather, legacies (i.e. a parent or older sibling went there), a reputation for being either “prestigious” or a “party school”… and so much more.

Some students come to us looking for advice on how to get into said Dream School. These students, and their parents, are looking for a “secret formula” to ensure their acceptance into said Dream School.

However, sometimes we have to burst their bubble tell them the truth–there is no “secret formula” to getting into a particular school.

Anyone, college planner or otherwise, who claims to know the “secret formula” for admissions into certain colleges is 100 percent selling you something they can’t deliver.

On top of the ethical problem of promising such an undeliverable (and taking your money in the process), these companies are missing one very important point:

What if Dream School isn’t the right school for your son or daughter?

What if it’s not the best value, or won’t lead to a higher chance of hire-ability in his or her field after graduation?

Now, don’t get me wrong–there are times when your student’s vision of a “dream school” is the right school for him or her. And there are others when it’s not.

What we do is work with your students to find their best career path, the best programs that fit that career path, and the best value for their education. Oftentimes, as a result, students wind up with an entirely new vision of the dream school.

And this is the one that’s based on a real return on investment–and is best poised to launch them to their future success.

Why Can’t You Just Grow Up Already?

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The Wall Street Journal recently published this article, stating that more than 40 percent of American young adults are back living with their parents.

The article cited possible reasons for this trend, up since 2005, being that rent has risen and that mortgage lending regulations have become stricter.

Both of these things are true–rent has risen (but just a little bit, if you refer to our handy chart), and mortgage lending regulations HAVE tightened up, appropriately, as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis.

But what’s striking is what’s missing here: the smoking gun in this whole scenario. And that’s the cold, hard fact that the cost of college has risen 600% since 2005…and 1100% in the last 35 years.

And yet, wages have NOT risen accordingly–not anywhere close. And that’s despite the number of millennials who have one or more degrees to qualify them for said jobs.

But do they? Do these degrees help qualify young people for the available jobs out there?

Many people seem to THINK they do. In reading through the comments section and in discussing with acquaintances, it seems many still think a stagnant economy is making jobs scarce (despite the fact that more young adults are educated than any other generation in history). Others blame the younger “special snowflake” generation for simply lacking in competence.

But the truth is…these degrees are a big part of the problem. Part of the reason the economy is stagnant…and jobs seem scarce…is because these degrees don’t match the reality of the workforce.

What happened is that in the recession, many people thought to go get more education as an effort to bolster their chances of getting a job in a bad economy. But more higher education just for the sake of more education doesn’t match what our workforce is really demanding.

As a result, more young people are unemployed and underemployed. But they spent an astronomical amount to get those degrees, which do not match the pay scales of what’s out there in the workforce.

And now they have to pay those loans off each month. To the tune of $350 a month (on average). Without a job (or with one that offers an entry-level salary).

So it’s no surprise that millennials aren’t entering the housing market. How could they? These capable adults couldn’t–and shouldn’t–obtain home loans while walking around with tens of thousands of dollars of debt already strapped to their backs.

And for some, it’s just easier to blame the younger generation for being “slackers,” “can’t-do special snowflakes,” and “wanting to put-off adulthood.” It’s always been the way, throughout history. But instead of name-calling, what we should be doing  as a society is considering why we continue to encourage young people to pursue degrees (and in some cases, multiple degrees) without first measuring the return on investment.

Given the impact on our markets and economy…isn’t it time we rethink that?